Wednesday, January 19, 2011

in Wired: The Extinction of Scientists who study species

I am featured in a new article in Wired Science that details the growing loss of scientists who describe species..... (thanks to author Craig McClain of Deep Sea News for thinking highly enough of me to use me as an example!)

Go here...(click here or on the logo)
A quote:
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.
I am mentioned as one of the "newer" generation of scientists who study species..

Some embellishment:

I haven't really elaborated much on my exact scientific expertise. But I am one of the only scientists currently working on classifying and describing new species of asteroids (i.e., starfish or sea stars) on a global scale. There are others, but believe it or not, there are actually more starfish paleontologists (i.e., three to four scientists who work primarily on fossils) than there are those who work on describing living species! Talk about a specialized niche!
To be fair, there are also a miscellaneous number of local specialists and retired scientists who occasionally work on species restricted to their geographic area.

More regular blogging next week!


Psi Wavefunction said...

Meanwhile, description of new protist species is alive and well. But I think that's because it's still incredibly easy to find new species, and fairly easy to work on them on the side, in addition to more "substantial" (according to agencies) projects. You guys don't really go around sequencing random marine samples for echinoderm SSU much, do you?

As many undescribed animal and plant species as there are, the species accumulation curves have long leveled off. Not so for microbial prokaryotes and eukaryotes (incl fungi), and *especially* not so for viral diversity, where you can easily find new classes and phyla. There, the art of species (and higher taxon) description is alive and well ;-)

Psi Wavefunction said...

(PS: Why didn't we see you at Science Online? You must come next year!)

ChrisM said...

Protist systematics has always struck me as being in a very distant context relative to metazoan systematics. The scale and academic realm are very different and I think most people generally learn about most microbial life as removed from metazoans. In otherwords- I learned about viruses in Bacteriology (while it was still called that) and am probably unusual in that I have actually taken "protozoology" which is usually included as parts of other classes. So, most think about them in more of "Biology" rather than a "Zoology" context. Thus, many have not traditionally considered them as part of the same "Biodiversity" issue. Although many talks I've heard have begun to indicate that they will be skewing their resources towards microbial life in the days to come. The NHM in London has certainly made the point that "artisan" metazoan biodiversity studies may need to be replaced by a more "factory" like approach for tinier, microbial forms-including protists, nematodes, fungi and etc.

Probably MORE factory-like, the smaller you get.

A different world to be sure.

Yes. I need to go. But taxonomists have no money. :-)

Psi Wavefunction said...

I see what you mean about smaller things often being ignored in biodiversity studies, and biodiversity ignored in their own field - we have a (the?) viral ecology lab in our department who approach viral diversity from a non-medical perspective. They initially started out working on viruses of algae (hey, protists get sick too, eh? ;-)), and now share the *largest* swath of the planet's biodiversity with only a handful of other labs. I feel we've been luckier in that there's been a divide between the medical 'protozoologists' and the biological protistologists, with the latter focusing much more on diversity. We're also lucky in that we've still got 'artisan' species descriptions being done to this very day, since at least we've got enough morphology to still do so. But yeah, it's gotten more environmental-sequence oriented, which has its drawbacks.

Personally, I prefer to approach microbes in the traditional zoological/botanical sense, treating them as individuals rather than sequences/populations/trophic levels. But that won't attract much funding or publications these days... but what can I do, I'm a cell biologist by nature and by training! ;-)

ChrisM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChrisM said...

I was fairly ignorant of the population/phenotype approach to barcoding/identifying microbial populations until I hit my PhD program. It was kind of apalling to see people making tallies of what was there-but who were not really even concerned about what taxa were present beyond that. meh to factory- I'm all for the "artisan" approach...

And in fact, I think that it is making protists (or whatever) more relatable and familiar things that people can relate more to, which is always an important objective. I spoke with some colleagues in France who saw the foraminifera video on Youtube I put up on the blog. They use it all the time now because most times, they NEVER see them as living organisms.

I think that the more we can change the culture to bring awareness..the better. Every person who appreciates the organisms is a person who supports the research and wants to see and learn more. So that is what makes the Echinoblog and your blog so worthwhile. It may not change the world immediately.. but one little tube foot or pseudopod at a time...