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Ocean census reveals the beast with 56 names

sailfish noaa.jpgThis week there are 56,400 fewer unique species in the sea thanks to humans. Don’t get depressed though; this is a good news story.

The Census of Marine Life has announced that its huge list of marine species is half-way to completion, with over 120,000 species validated. As part of this process the scientists putting together the World Register of Marine Species have identified 56,400 aliases, including 56 for just one species: the Breadcrumb sponge, or Halichondria panacea*,

“Convincing warnings about declining fish and other marine species must rest on a valid census,” says Mark Costello, co-founder of the register (press release pdf). “… It will eliminate the misinterpretation of names, confusion over Latin spellings, redundancies and a host of other problems that sow confusion and slow scientific progress.”

It is hoped the project will be finished by the end of 2010, when the 230,000 marine species so far known to science are listed. Census scientists think there are three times more marine species out there.

“Animals on land or on the sea don’t walk around with their names on their face,” says Philippe Bouchet, of the Natural History Museum in Paris (AFP). “The history of science is full of approximations, of intuitions and of errors.”

Halichondria panacea appears to be a classic example of this. It is not surprising the organism was given so many names, says Edward vanden Berghe, census scientist and researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“It can look completely different according to the conditions in which it grows, and as a consequence, people have been describing the same thing over and over again, using a different name each time,” says Berghe (The Guardian).

Deep Sea News thinks open access taxonomy could help sort the problem:

With over 250 years of species discoveries to sift through, scientists need a complete record of the literature to accomplish this task. In my opinion, much of the problem lies in obscurity of taxonomic works. Many scientists choose to publish their work in small local museum or society journals that most people wouldn’t know existed or are very difficult to get ahold of.

Open Access (OA) Taxonomy will alleviate much of this problem.


Scientific American census slide show

Scientists Struggle to Keep Up With Marine Life Discoveries – LiveScience

Image: coolest fish in the sea: the sailfish / NOAA


Alcyonium manusdiaboli sensu Esper, 1794

Alcyonium medullare Lamarck, 1815

Amorphina appendiculata Schmidt, 1875

Amorphina grisea Fristedt, 1887

Amorphina paciscens Schmidt, 1875

Halichondria albescens Rafinesque, 1818

Halichondria ambigua Bowerbank, 1874

Halichondria brettii Bowerbank, 1866

Halichondria caduca Bowerbank, 1866

Halichondria coccinea Bowerbank, 1861

Halichondria coralloides Bowerbank, 1882

Halichondria edusa Bowerbank, 1874

Halichondria firmus Bowerbank, 1874

Halichondria glabra Bowerbank, 1866

Halichondria grisea Fristedt, 1887

Halichondria incerta Bowerbank, 1866

Halichondria lactea Bowerbank, 1866

Halichondria membrana Bowerbank, 1866

Halichondria paciscens Schmidt, 1875

Halichondria panicea Pallas, 1766

Halichondria pannosus Verrill, 1874

Halichondria papillaris Linnaeus, 1791

Halichondria reticulata Lieberkühn, 1859

Halichondria sevosa Johnston, 1842

Halichondria topsenti de Laubenfels, 1936

Halichondriella corticata Burton, 1931

Halina panicea Pallas, 1766

Hymeniacidon brettii Bowerbank, 1866

Hymeniacidon coccinea Bowerbank, 1861

Hymeniacidon fallaciosus Bowerbank, 1866

Hymeniacidon firmus Bowerbank, 1874

Hymeniacidon fragilis Bowerbank, 1866

Hymeniacidon lactea Bowerbank, 1866

Hymeniacidon membrana Bowerbank, 1866

Hymeniacidon parfitti Parfitt, 1868

Hymeniacidon reticulatus Bowerbank, 1866

Hymeniacidon solida Bowerbank, 1874

Hymeniacidon tegeticula Bowerbank, 1874

Hymeniacidon thomasii Bowerbank, 1866

Isodictya crassa Bowerbank, 1882

Isodictya perplexa Bowerbank, 1882

Menanetia minchini Topsent, 1896

Microciona tumulosa Bowerbank, 1882

Pellina bibula Schmidt, 1870

Seriatula seriata Grant, 1826

Spongia compacta Sowerby, 1806

Spongia cristata Ellis & Solander, 1786

Spongia panicea Pallas, 1766

Spongia seriata Grant, 1826

Spongia tomentosa Linnaeus, 1767

Spongia tubulosa Ellis & Solander, 1786

Spongia urens Ellis & Solander, 1786

Spuma borealis var. convoluta Miklucho-Maclay, 1870

Spuma borealis var. tuberosa Miklucho-Maclay, 1870

Spuma borealis var. velamentosa Miklucho-Maclay, 1870

Trachyopsilla glaberrima Burton, 1931


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