Wednesday, October 26, 2005

In classification only fittest survive

Carol Kausuk Yoon,New York Times News Service

Different groups have come out with their own classification lists for the animal and plant kingdom. A new initiative may show a way out of the confusion...

Carolus Linnaeus, 18th-century botanist and father of scientific naming, enjoyed the unusual status of international scientific hero.

Celebrated as the creator of a classification system that brought order to the flood of new species being discovered, Linnaeus was revered in his native Sweden and was so widely admired across Europe that he became one of the most frequently painted figures of the 1700s. (The 515 portraits, incidentally, did nothing to correct his already oversized ego.)

In fact, the triumph of the Linnaean method, which uses kingdoms of life and two-part Latin names for species, was so complete that it seemed he had forever solved the problem of cataloguing the world's living things.

So Linnaeus would most likely be shocked — after guessing there were fewer than 15,000 species of animals and plants on earth — to learn that more than 200 years later, scientists are far from finishing the naming of living things and are once again being overwhelmed by an explosion of new species and names.

About 1.5 million to 2 million species have been named, and a deluge of what could be many millions more appears imminent.

As a result, scientists have once again been seized by 18th-century paroxysms of fear that the field of classification could descend into Babylonian chaos with precious information lost. For while the Linnaean method for organising life is still followed and has held up well, no one oversees what has become the rapid and sometimes haphazard proliferation of species names.


Enter ZooBank, a Web-based register to compile the scientific names of all animal species.

Full Story


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