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Planet Earth

How much would it cost to identify all the animals?

Not Exactly Rocket ScienceBy Ed YongFebruary 15, 2011 11:33 PM

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Around $263 billion US dollars, if a new paper is to be believed. I've wrote about the paper for Nature today and the story appears on their The Great Beyond blog. Head over there to read the full thing. Here's an excerpt: Based on a survey of 44 Brazilian taxonomists (representing 9% of the country’s total), the duo calculated the average cost of training, funding and equipping people in the field. This might seem like an unrepresentative sample, but Brazil contains 10% of the world’s animal species and the country’s taxonomists are among the world’s most prolific. Their salaries also come close to the global average for professors.

Carbayo and Marques found that the average researcher described 25 species in their career. With around 1.4 million known animals, and an estimated 5.4 million species to discover, the duo calculated that it would take US$263 billion to cover them all. Their figures are published in an open-access letter in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Not all species are equal. It costs three times as much to describe a new vertebrate than an insect, although there are almost 300 times more of the latter left to identify. “You can effectively consider the warm-blooded things as done,” says Alistair Dove, who studies fish parasites.

In the rest of the piece, Chris Laly from London's Natural History Museum comments on how online tools could drive th costs down, and Al Dove (@para_sight) says that not all taxonomists are equal. You should also read Craig McClain's excellent WIRED article on how the scientists who study life's richness are themselves an endangered species. Image by Retro traveler

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