Scientists at the International Institute for Species Exploration have put together a list of the Top 10 New Species described in 2007.
Number one on the list is a sleeper ray called Electrolux addisoni. It was thus named as the discovery of this brightly patterned electric ray “sheds light (Latin, lux) on the rich and poorly known fish diversity of the Western Indian Ocean. And the vigorous sucking action displayed on the videotape of the feeding ray may rival a well-known electrical device used to suck the detritus from carpets and furniture in modern homes”.
Coming in at number 8 is the Box Jellyfish, Malo kingi. This new species is the second known species of the dangerous box jellyfish genus Malo, one of several genera of irukandji jellyfish. It is named after American tourist Robert King, who apparently died after being stung by the species while swimming off northern Queensland, Australia. King’s death was a pivotal point in irukandji management, raising public awareness about safety.
The top ten were selected by an international committee of experts, chaired by Dr. Janine Caira of the University of Connecticut. These species were selected from the thousands of species described in calendar year 2007.
The taxonomists are also issuing a SOS – State of Observed Species report card on human knowledge of Earth’s species. In it, they report that 16,969 species new to science were discovered and described in 2006. The SOS report was compiled by ASU’s International Institute for Species Exploration in partnership with the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, the International Plant Names Index, and Thompson Scientific, publisher of Zoological Record.
“The international committee of taxon experts who made the selection of the top 10 from the thousands of species described in calendar year 2007 is helping draw attention to biodiversity, the field of taxonomy, and the importance of natural history museums and botanical gardens in a fun-filled way,” says Professor Quentin Wheeler, an entomologist and director of ASU’s International Institute for Species Exploration.
“We live in an exciting time. A new generation of tools are coming online that will vastly accelerate the rate at which we are able to discover and describe species,” says Wheeler. “Most people do not realize just how incomplete our knowledge of Earth’s species is or the steady rate at which taxonomists are exploring that diversity. In 2006, for example, an average of nearly 50 species per day were discovered and named.
“We are surrounded by such an exuberance of species diversity that we too often take it for granted. Charting the species of the world and their unique attributes are essential parts of understanding the history of life and is in our own self-interest as we face the challenges of living on a rapidly changing planet,” Wheeler says.
The announcement fell on the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus, who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications. The 300th anniversary of his birth was celebrated worldwide in 2007 and this year marks the 250th anniversary of the beginning of animal naming.
The majority of the 16,969 species described (named) in 2006 were invertebrate animals and vascular plants, which according to the SOS report is consistent with recent years and reflects, in part, “our profound ignorance of many of the most species-rich taxa inhabiting the planet.”
There are about 1.8 million species that have been described since Linnaeus initiated the modern systems for naming plants and animals in the 18th century. Scientists estimate there are between 2 million and 100 million species on Earth, though most set the number closer to 10 million.
According to the authors of the SOS report: “There are many reasons that scientists explore Earth’s species: to discover and document the results of evolutionary history; to learn the species that comprise the ecosystems upon which life on our planet depends; to establish baseline knowledge of the planet’s species and their distribution so that non-native pests and vectors of disease may be detected; to inform and enable conservation biology and resource management.
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