Old New Species

Decades can pass between the discovery of a new animal or plant and its official debut in the scientific literature.

By Edyta Zielinska | November 20, 2012

A male Leptalis orise, discoverd in the 1800sWikimedia, William Chapman HewitsonIt often takes researchers more than 2 decades to officially name and publish a description of a newly discovered species, according to a study published yesterday (November 20) in Current Biology. Because of this delay, some of the species may become extinct before they are officially cataloged—possibly throwing off estimates of extinction rates and biodiversity.

“Papers like this are good: they help us identify the bottlenecks in the process," Quentin Wheeler, at the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University told ScienceNOW.

Researchers from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris investigated the nearly 17,000 new species published in 2007 and picked 600 to analyze more closely.  Surprisingly, the lag time for professional biologists averaged about 21 years with a median of 12 years, whereas it took only 15 years for the amateur collector. In addition, the time from discovery to publication was shorter for aquatic species, as well as in countries with a per capita income of less than $35,000.

The reason for the huge lag time is manifold. Once specimens are collected and brought back to the lab, researchers must do extensive research to rule out that the species hasn’t already been discovered. This entails extensive literature searches, as well as travel to examine similar specimens in museum or laboratory collections. In addition, the publication of new species isn’t likely to garner the attention of high profile journals, making the projects a lower priority for many researchers.

Regardless of the reasons, "a median shelf life of 12 years is catastrophic," Lee Grismer, a biologist at La Sierra University in Riverside, told ScienceNOW. "We will not save biodiversity with this."

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Avatar of: Paul Stein

Paul Stein

Posts: 237

November 21, 2012

From the article, one seems to gather that the system associated with going from discovery to publication appears to be quite cumbersome, and in great need for improvement.  It would have been nice if the article explained just what that system was a bit better so that knowledgeable recommendations could be made.

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Posts: 1

November 21, 2012

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Avatar of: Salticidologist


Posts: 56

December 18, 2012

Traditional museum systematists can be very slow with limited time and no incentive to produce anything except retrospective revisions.  Also 'decades can pass between the publication of a new species in the scientific literature and its discovery in nature.'  I have been involved in the 'rediscovery' of quite a few species, long lost but described briefly more than 130 years ago.  Amateurs with good cameras have played a large role in these rediscoveries of species that even professionals have given up on.

Avatar of: kitapbigi


Posts: 20

February 11, 2013


To Dave20640, 65% is the proportion of the 2,000 retracted articles, not of all articles published. If 200,000 articles were published, that would be only 2/3 of one percent of all articles published; not a stunning number. I didn't see anything in the article (or the linked material) that indicated whether 2,000 was large or not, by comparison. What perplexes me is that these people think they are not going to get caught. That makes me wonder if there's a lot more going on than we know about, that they do know about. I then wonder why we don't see, in these reports, information that they were asked if, in their experience, this kind of behavior is widespread. Not that we would necessarily be confident about the veracity of their observations. kredi hesaplama-evim şahane - fragman izle - mobilya modelleri


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