Species Sleuths: Amateur Naturalists Spark a New Wave of Discovery

    Luisa Rivera / Yale e360

Species Sleuths: Amateur Naturalists Spark a New Wave of Discovery

Scientists have not kept pace with the work of discovering new species. Now, a growing number of committed hobbyists – ranging from a Belgian bus driver to a California cybersecurity expert – are out in the field, igniting a boom in documenting the world’s biodiversity.

By Jessica Leber March 12, 2019

When mushroom hunter Terri Clements found a unique specimen near her home in Arizona, she couldn’t be certain by its appearance that she’d stumbled across a new species. She tracked down a commercial lab that would process DNA from samples she collected and studied the resulting sequences. Only later did she cold email a mycological scientist, who confirmed her work. As a result, this December, she became part of a team publishing a scientific paper describing her new mushroom species, Morchella kaibabensis, along with three others.

A former restauranteur and real estate executive who retired in 2012, Clements has no formal scientific training beyond her college microbiology minor. But using a combination of traditional taxonomy — the science of describing, naming, and classifying life on earth — and increasingly accessible DNA classification tools, she’s now hooked on documenting fungi either previously unknown in her region, or, just as often, new to science. “I spend hours and hours on it,” she says. “It’s like a full-time job for which I don’t get paid.”…