As many as 50% of all natural history specimens held in the world’s museums could be wrongly named, according to a new study by researchers from Oxford University and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
… scoured the records of Ipomoea – a large and diverse genus which includes the sweet potato – on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility database. Examining the names found on 49,500 specimens from the Americas, they found that 40% of these were outdated synonyms rather than the current name, and 16% of the names were unrecognisable or invalid. In addition, 11% of the specimens weren’t identified, being given only the name of the genus.
The team thinks there are three main reasons for these inaccurate names. First, they suggest that there simply isn’t enough time or research devoted to writing monographs. Second, they point out that the number of specimens in the world is increasing too quickly for research to keep up – with 50% of the world’s specimens in 2000 having been collected since 1969. And finally, there are now so many museums and herbaria around the world that experts cannot view all the specimens in a genus and revise the names accordingly.
But there is a more worrying problem underlying their snapshot of incorrect naming. Of 1.8 million different described species on Earth, 0.35 million are flowering plants and a further 0.95 million are insects. While Dr Scotland and his team have shown that the names of flowering plants are commonly incorrect, other researchers have shown that the insect kingdom is potentially in an even worse situation. ‘We think a conservative estimate is that up to half the world’s natural history specimens could be incorrectly named,’ says Goodwin. More.
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