Research Matters

Research Matters

Judging scientific names

Almost 17,000 new species were discovered last year, and sorting out all their scientific names can be a thorny task. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

Aired August 31, 2008


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Transcript

Almost 17,000 new species were discovered last year, and sorting out all their scientific names can be a thorny task. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

Daphne Fautin, KU professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, is a commissioner for the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.

Fautin: It's the Supreme Court of zoological nomenclature. We make decisions not on whether a particular species is really valid, whether it exists or not - that's a subject of scientific debate. But whether it has followed the rules, the laws the international code of scientific nomenclature so that it can be considered scientifically available and it actually applies to an entity that we can identify."

About 1.8 million species have been described, Since Carolus Linnaeus (Care-uh-lis Luh-nee-us) devised the modern system for scientific names 250 years ago. Most new finds go unheralded except within research circles.

"The real attention grabbers are those kinds of things that humans can identify with in some way. Because they're pretty, because they're cute, because they're dramatic - they're the largest, they're the smallest, they're the oldest. But most of plod on to try to catalogue the world's biodiversity in obscurity."

Before joining the commission, Fautin worked with the group as a scientist who frequently indentified new species of sea anemones. She says finding and describing new species isn't terribly difficult, so long as you're looking in the right places.

"I've got dozens of new species sitting on my shelf, waiting to be described. "I've had no problem getting species, because I sit here as one of the five anemone taxonomists in the world. People are always sending me photographs and saying, 'What's this?' Most anemones are very difficult to identify from photos, so I'll ask for specimens. Very often, when I get them, I don't know what they are - I can't identify them. So, it turns out they are new species."

For more on zoological nomenclature, log onto Research Matters dot KU dot edu. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

Tell Me More

Sea anemone researcher at KU sits on 'supreme court' of species identification

LAWRENCE - Every day, hordes of spanking new species are found and furnished with scientific names. Almost 17,000 species of animals and plants new to science were described last year. With this abundance of natural novelty, somebody must sort out the new critters, ensuring that discoveries stick to the established system of classifications.

Read the full news release