'Skeletons' in the closet

November 13, 2001

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) - Many species have invalid names, creating havoc for those scientists who are in the business of classifying both fossils and current living things, as well as for others who rely on this information. John Alroy, researcher at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara, delved into the topic in his paper presented at the Geological Society of America last week in Boston. Alroy said nearly a third of all names have been thrown out.

"I'm not counting the number of invalid species to date," said Alroy, "but rather I'm estimating the number of invalid species that haven't been caught yet. About one fifth of the names currently in use are likely to prove invalid."

The situation presents current and future problems as more and more species are at risk of extinction; their correct, valid names become a critical issue. "There is a broad scientific consensus that a global mass extinction is now underway, and that this extinction eventually may rival the five most severe biodiversity crises in the history of multicellular life on Earth," said Alroy.

He explained that the number of species at risk of extinction remains uncertain because there are serious statistical barriers to estimating per-species extinction rates and also the total number of living species.

Alroy said that the total number of living species were originally published as spanning three to 30 million, and only lately have been narrowed to five to 15 million. Reasons for the uncertainty include uneven taxonomic coverage. This leads to poor knowledge of highly diverse taxonomic groups -- for example,

terrestrial arthropods (including insects, crustaceans and spiders). Additionally, classification is uneven in certain regions such as tropical forests. There is also a lack of standardized sampling schemes, and there are statistical problems with methods for extrapolating counts of diversity.

Popular species like butterflies have an even higher rate of invalid names he said. "We need another thousand years," said Alroy. "It's a very slow process to vet the names. Some people work 40 years on this."
-end-


University of California - Santa Barbara

Related Fossils Articles from Brightsurf:

First exhaustive review of fossils recovered from Iberian archaeological sites
The Iberian Peninsula has one of the richest paleontological records in Western Europe.

Fossils reveal mammals mingled in age of dinosaurs
A cluster of ancient mammal fossils discovered in western Montana reveal that mammals were social earlier than previously believed, a new study finds.

Oldest monkey fossils outside of Africa found
Three fossils found in a lignite mine in southeastern Yunan Province, China, are about 6.4 million years old, indicate monkeys existed in Asia at the same time as apes, and are probably the ancestors of some of the modern monkeys in the area, according to an international team of researchers.

Scientists prove bird ovary tissue can be preserved in fossils
A research team led by Dr. Alida Bailleul from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has proved that remnants of bird ovaries can be preserved in the fossil record.

Biosignatures may reveal a wealth of new data locked inside old fossils
Step aside, skeletons -- a new world of biochemical ''signatures'' found in all kinds of ancient fossils is revealing itself to paleontologists, providing a new avenue for insights into major evolutionary questions.

Fish fossils become buried treasure
Rare metals crucial to green industries turn out to have a surprising origin.

New Argentine fossils uncover history of celebrated conifer group
Newly unearthed, surprisingly well-preserved conifer fossils from Patagonia, Argentina, show that an endangered and celebrated group of tropical West Pacific trees has roots in the ancient supercontinent that once comprised Australia, Antarctica and South America, according to an international team of researchers.

Ancestor of all animals identified in Australian fossils
A team led by UC Riverside geologists has discovered the first ancestor on the family tree that contains most animals today, including humans.

Metabolic fossils from the origin of life
Since the origin of life, metabolic networks provide cells with nutrition and energy.

Fossils of the future to mostly consist of humans, domestic animals
In a co-authored paper published online in the journal Anthropocene, University of Illinois at Chicago paleontologist Roy Plotnick argues that the fossil record of mammals will provide a clear signal of the Anthropocene era.

Read More: Fossils News and Fossils Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.