The Wikipedia for New Species

Science Biology

The Wikipedia for New Species (No Unicorns, Please)

The circle of life—otherwise known as a tree

PNAS The circle of life—otherwise known as a tree

An open-source site could mean a big boost for scientists looking for new critters

When it comes to identifying all of the species on the planet, there’s not much you can say with certainty. Unicorns don’t make the cut; bunnies do. Then there’s a lot of gray. Even estimating the total number of species, never mind naming them, has proven a monumental challenge—with the best guesses putting the count from a low of a few million to a high of 100 million.

Now, the job is getting easier—or at least more organized—thanks to a newly launched digital repository that researchers all over the planet can use to upload their findings, and allow curators to bring order out of the biological chaos. What Wikipedia did for everyday—and not-so-everyday—knowledge, the new site can do for the impossibly complicated business of figuring out every species of microbe, fungus, beast and tree that calls the planet home.

The Open Tree of Taxonomy (OTT), just announced in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the brainstorm of researchers from 11 institutions, led by evolutionary biologist Cody Hinchliff of the University of Michigan. There were a lot of reasons that trying to create a one-stop, go-to destination for all research on speciation was an audacious idea. For one thing, the studies are all over the map—literally. Biologists around the world have been finding and announcing new species in all manner of often-obscure journals for decades, if not centuries. Much of that work occurred before the age of digitizing and gene sequencing, which makes modern species research both more accessible and more reliable—and earlier findings less of both. Read more.

Note: Don´t miss the video “Waking the Dead: Bringing Extinct Species Back to Life.”