Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The taxing subject of taxonomy

The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) is still trying to work out the challenges of taxonomy amidst a continuing explosion of new species (about 13,000 a year, most being tropical insects), the urgency of cataloging all species in the face of increasing extinction rates, and the age-old debate between "lumpers" and "splitters." As biologist E. O. Wilson put it, "In dealing with the living world, we are mostly flying blind. Trying to diagnose the health of an ecosystem -- a lake or a forest -- to save or stabilise it is like a doctor treating a patient while only knowing ten percent of the organs." Gathered in Switzerland for the 250th anniversary of the birth of scientific taxonomy's founding father, Carl Linnaeus, scientists discussed new internet-based initiatives to share and spread information.

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