Motherboard checks out the state of our nomenclature, and the findings are not good:
n a study published on Monday in the journal Current Biology, researchers from Oxford University and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh describe how many plant specimens in the world’s natural history museums might currently be masquerading under false identities.
They started off by evaluating 4,500 specimens of the African ginger genus Aframomum, on which a detailed monograph was conducted in 2014. A monograph is a complete revision of organisms (usually a family or genus), which involves sorting out all of the names associated with it. The researchers found that before this new monograph, up to 58 percent of the Aframomum specimens had outdated names, were misidentified, or only identified to the genus or family as opposed to the species level.
In 2004, researchers found a similar problem with insects.
In their study, the researchers also give the example of the Dipterocarpaceae, a family of rainforest trees from Asia. They discovered that 9,222 specimens collected were divided into two or more samples, to make a total of 21,075 specimens. Twenty-nine percent of these possessed different names in different museum collections, highlighting the fact that at least one of the names must be wrong.
In order to tackle the proliferation of wrongly-named plants and insects in the world’s natural history museums, [Oxford botanist Zoe] Goodwin asserted the need for the taxonomic community to join forces. The researchers suggest that digitization projects and DNA barcoding—which enables them to identify specimens more quickly—could also aid the correct naming of species.