More than 100 new species identified; many are spiders, wasps and ants prizzly
December 17, 2010 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Discoveries spanning five continents and three oceans cap the United Nations' International Year of Biodiversity (Many of which are little things [list of the described species])

Global biodiversity surveys over the past few years have provided increasing evidence that our planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. Plants, animals, and microorganisms are disappearing thousands of times more rapidly than they have for more than 65 million years, and for the first time in Earth's history, human activity is the predominant force behind this mass extinction. As governments and conservation organizations around the world attempt to stem this tide of disappearing species, they face a number of formidable challenges, but perhaps the greatest among them is this—we have only documented and described an estimated 10 percent of the species on Earth, and it's hard to save a species when you don't know that it exists.
In an effort to help address this critical need for data about the diversity and distribution of life on our planet, scientists from the California Academy of Sciences have spent the past year exploring some of the most diverse—and often most threatened—habitats on Earth, searching for new species and creating comprehensive biodiversity maps. In 2010, these scientists have added 113 new relatives to our family tree, including 83 arthropods, 20 fishes, four corals, two sea slugs, two plants, one reptile, and one fossil mammal. The new species were described by a dozen scientists from the California Academy of Sciences along with several dozen international collaborators.

California Academy of Sciences has a visualizations page.

This is an 'infographic' on endangered species (not from CAS).

And this isn't even starting to think about the impact of things like the Rise of the Prizzly (or the 34 other potential arctic hybrids).
"The "prizzly" bear and other animal hybrids are threatening Arctic biodiversity and could lead to extinctions, according to a commentary in this week's Nature journal."

It "imperils species through interbreeding as well as through habitat loss," authors Brendan Kelly, Andrew Whiteley and David Tallmon argue. "As more isolated populations and species come into contact, they will mate, hybrids will form and rare species are likely to go extinct. As the genomes of species become mixed, adaptive gene combinations will be lost."

Kelly, a researcher at NOAA's National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Juneau and his colleagues have identified at least 34 possible hybridizations that could occur among animals in and around the Arctic.

Despite the problems with such hybrids, this is actually the semi-good news. The bad is that most cross-species matings don't even produce any viable offspring, so adult polar bears, whales, porpoises and other animals could mate multiple times and still die without having reproduced.

"But hybridization driven by human activities tends to occur quickly and to reduce genomic and species diversity," Kelly and his team write. "When mallard ducks were introduced to New Zealand in the 1860s, they began mating with native gray ducks. Now few, if any, pure native populations remain."
posted by infinite intimation (8 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I find this stuff totally interesting. Remember back in the days of Linneaus and back when Charles Darwin was circumnavigating the globe bopping birds and foxes over the head with his geological hammer? I think as genetic sequencing gets cheaper there will be a huge new movement to collect specimens for DNA analysis. And I'm going to be one of those people.
posted by snofoam at 4:30 AM on December 18, 2010

as genetic sequencing gets cheaper there will be a huge new movement to collect specimens for DNA analysis And I'm going to be one of those people.

Cool! Like, say, Unzipping Wildlife Genes: Genetics Revolutionize Conservation Research or the Global Ocean Sampling expedition? I used to work on plant genetics databases, not currently working in the field though...

And sequencing is getting pretty cheap...the problem is in managing the data and interpreting it.
posted by foonly at 7:53 AM on December 18, 2010

For the record, I'm not saying someone has hired me to do that, or that I even have the appropriate academic credentials. But, I am totally gonna do that.
posted by snofoam at 10:00 AM on December 18, 2010

More power to you, then, snofoam.

For the record, there are a lot of ways anyone can help observing wildlife, eg: USA National Phenology Network,
Watch the Wild

and help analyze sequence data: The Similarity Matrix of Proteins

or simulate DNA mutations over time: evolution@home
posted by foonly at 12:39 PM on December 18, 2010

Although it is sad that this is essentially a private thread, I am enjoying it. Thanks for the links, foonly. I actually just wrote a book on the wildlife of the island I live on, so I'm quite interested in the intersection of amateur and professional work in biology. I think astronomy was ahead of biology in terms of interesting things observed first by hobbyists, but biology is not going to be far behind.

Also, the link from shoesfullofdust is interesting, but it's not that useful to me in terms of understanding the life that is actually around me because: the interface is pretty bad, which is common in most of these things, the information available is not that useful (a specimen of X is in the collection at University of X and there are no photos of it online), and I happen to live on an island that is split between two countries where in each case the records based on country are primarily from other islands that are relatively distant from where I am.

It's actually somewhat surprising to me, after having tried to do a fair bit of taxonomical research online, that so many of the resources are so technologically unsophisticated and difficult to use. Based on my personal location, I find it somewhat exasperating that location-based databases, which are super-useful on an island, are typically done based on political boundaries that bear no relation to geographic reality.
posted by snofoam at 3:25 PM on December 18, 2010

*shoves endangered species into PCR machine, Fargo style*
posted by ryanrs at 11:54 PM on December 18, 2010

I see you are busy! Some neat photos on the Les Fruits de Mer site!

You're absolutely correct about the difficulty in browsing some of the database portals; the sitauation at GBIF's data portal is exacerbated because they are trying to aggregate data from numerous providers. And a lot of bioinformatics tools (eg, BLAST) are still often used in a command-line context, using plain text files for input and output, so trying to integrate imagery and graphical interfaces can get complex.

And, from a practical point of view, you could roughly divide development costs at one-third each for the basic functionality, documentation/training/tutorial development, and interface design. It's been my experience that documentation and interface design often don't get the necessary funds, as long as the tool is good enough. Things are changing, though, as the basic tools are established so there is more emphasis on integrating queries across multiple databases and doing higher-level analyses and visualization.

I think the Encyclopedia of Life does a pretty good job with the interface, they are presumably international, and allow you to submit images via their Flikr group. According to this post from about a year ago, they are working on a field-guide style interface to browse via geographic region.
posted by foonly at 12:49 PM on December 19, 2010

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