Of all living or extinct animal and plant species, discovered on the Earth in 2007, only ten have been selected for a Top 10 presented on the 23 May on the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of Carlos Linneo, initiator of the species classification and naming system. 2008 also marks the 250th anniversary of the start of animal identification.
In the photo, the ten species selected by the experts. From top to bottom: electric ray (Electrolux addisoni), remains of the duck-billed dinosaur (Gryposaurus monumentensis), pink millipede (Desmoxytes purpurosea), exotic frog (Philautus maia), venomous snake (Oxyuranus temporalis), fruit eating bat (styloctenium mindorensis), Xerocomus silwoodensis mushroom, “Malo kingi” jellyfish, rhinoceros beetle (Megaceras briansaltini) and the Michelin plant (Tecticornia bibenda).
In the list prepared each year by the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE) at the Arizona State University (USA), in first place is an electric ray, Electrolux addisoni, whose name reflects the “vigorous action of hoovering as a method of feeding”, according to experts. Discovered on the east coast of South Africa, this peculiar ray “could compete with the well-known function of the hoover for hoovering, in its case, the ocean floor”.
The list also includes a duck-billed dinosaur, Gryposaurus monumentensis, which dates back around 75 million years and was discovered in the southeast corner of the US state of Utah by a team from the Alf Museum of Palaeontology (California). In the plant kingdom, scientists have included a plant similar in appearance to the Michelin man, Tecticornia bibenda, a “tasty” plant from Western Australia.
In the art imitation category is “Dim”, the rhinoceros beetle, Megaceras briansaltini, which according to scientists looks like the character Dim from the Disney film “Bugs”. There is also a pink millipede, a strange frog, one of the most venomous snakes in the world, a bat that eats fruit, a mushroom and a jellyfish with the name of its victim “Malo Kingi”.
“The international committee of experts on taxonomy which has chosen the Top 10 from thousands of species discovered in 2007 aims to attract people's attention on biodiversity, taxonomy and the importance of natural history museums and botanic gardens in a fun way”, explained Quentin Wheeler, entomologist and director of the IISE.
Participating taxonomists took the opportunity of the announcement of the top 10 to issue an alert through an SOS Report on the state of species observed on the Earth. A total of 16,969 species were discovered and described in 2006, with an average of 50 species a day. Most of them are invertebrates and vascular plants which, in line with the SOS Report, are the result of work in recent years and partly reflect “our profound ignorance of many species that have the richest taxonomy on the planet”, declared the researchers.
According to the authors of the SOS Report, “there are many reasons why scientists explore species living on the Earth: to discover and document the results of the history of evolution, learn which species depend on ecosystems for surviving, establish a basic knowledge of species on the planet and their distribution for detecting colonisations of invading species or disease vectors, reporting on and allowing biological conservation and resource management”.
Limited knowledge of terrestrial species
“We are living in exciting times. A new generation of tools are appearing on the Internet that will make it possible to greatly accelerate the number of species discovered and described each year”, Wheeler indicated to SINC. “Most people do not realise how incomplete our knowledge is of terrestrial species, nor the level to which taxonomists are exploring biodiversity”.
Around 1.8 million species have been described since Linneo introduced modern systems for identifying plants and animals in the 18th century. Scientists estimate that there are between 2 and 100 million species on the planet, although many put this figure at around 10 million.
“We are surrounded by such an exuberant diversity of species that we too often take this for granted. Monitoring species around the world and their unique attributes are essential parts for understanding the history of life, since we are facing the challenge of living on a rapidly changing planet”, Wheeler asserted. For the taxonomist, it is still more important to discover species that live on our planet before those that might exist outside of it, although he admits that “the diversity of extraterrestrial life does appear to be more eye-catching”.
Composition of committee of experts
The International Committee of Experts was headed by Janine Caira, from the University of Connecticut. Nominations were prepared through the University of Arizona’s webpage by IISE personnel and committee members.
Caira’s committee was free to choose and develop its own criteria based on the unique attributes of the species and events that occurred during their identification. Committee members included the University of Kansas (USA), the Royal Botanic Gardens in England, the Natural History Museum in London and the Natural Science Museum in Madrid. There were in total almost 15 centres from different countries.
The SOS Report has been compiled by the IISE with the help of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, the International Plant Names Index and Thompson Scientific, publisher of Zoological Record.
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