The mass extinction of scientists who study species

A great article in Wired by Dr. Craig McClain of Deep Sea News fame.  Craig is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a deep sea ecologist and widely regarded as the first (and most successful) ocean blogger.  

We are currently in a biodiversity crisis. A quarter of all mammals face extinction, and 90 percent of the largest ocean fish are gone. Species are going extinct at rates equaled only five times in the history of life. But the biodiversity crisis we are currently encountering isn’t just a loss of species, it’s also a loss of knowledge regarding them.

Scientists who classify, describe and examine the relationships between organisms are themselves going extinct. The millions of dollars spent globally on technology to catalog species may actually be pushing out the people we rely upon: taxonomists and systematists. We’re like young children frantic to add new baseball cards to our collections, while the actual creators of the baseball cards themselves are vanishing.

If 50 percent of the species of aplacophoran went extinct tomorrow, we would never know.

Take for example the aplacophorans, a rare rare group of invertebrates closely related to octopuses, squids, snails and clams. Most of us will never see even one of the approximately 360 known species of small (less than a couple of inches long) aplacophorans that inhabit ocean depths greater than 50 feet. But, ignorance of this group is not limited to the public.

Fewer than two dozen scientific papers have been published on the group since 2005, even though many new species await discovery and description. And most of these studies were done by one scientist, the venerable Amélie Scheltema of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. As she edges closer to retirement, she may sadly become the last to study aplacophorans.

Read the entire article here

One Response to “The mass extinction of scientists who study species”

  1. Emmett Duffy says:

    Like Craig and many others, I’ve been worried about this for some time too. Interesting counterpoint to this argument here though:

    http://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/fulltext/S0169-5347%2811%2900208-4

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