Oxford Researchers Find Half Of World's Natural History Specimens Have Wrong Names

Posted: Nov 16 2015, 11:57pm CST | by , Updated: Nov 17 2015, 9:12pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Oxford Researchers Find  Half of World's Natural History Specimens have Wrong Names
Credit: John Baker

Researchers find that almost half of the natural history specimens are labeled wrongly.

Researchers from Oxford University have found that almost half of all natural history specimens could be labeled wrongly. Probably, it may not be wise to trust everything that is shelved in the museums. 

Separating one species from the other and deciding which insect belongs to which genus is a really difficult task. Even the most accomplished naturalist can confuse them with each other. So, when a new specimen arrives at a museum, it’s highly likely that they might be given wrong names, which in turn can prove problematic for biologists. 

“Many areas in the biological sciences, including academic studies of evolution and applied conservation, as well as achieving the 2020 targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity, are underpinned by accurate naming,” explained Dr Robert Scotland of the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford. 

“Without accurate names on specimens, the records held in collections around the world would make no sense, as they don't correspond to the reality outside.”

The issue was raised online when a large amount of specimen data was found with incorrect names. To establish how bad the situation is, researchers from the University of Oxford and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh carried out a formal study. They team studied 4,500 specimens of the African ginger genus Aframomum, a detailed study completed in 2014, providing an accurate account of all the species and their specimens.

Research was done in three ways to find out the extent of mistakes. Firstly, researchers tried to find out how many times the names of a single specimen have changed over the times because their names have been reviewed if some information about their family is found. Researchers were surprise to find that at least 58% of specimens were either misidentified or given an outdated name.

Then, researchers tried to find out how many specimens from the same plants have given different names in different museums. Distributing duplicate of a single plant to various museums is very common practice and there is always a possibility that a single plant might have be given different names by different museums. Researchers found that a total of 21,075 duplicate specimens, 29% had different names in different herbaria, proving at least one of them must be wrong.

Finally, researchers figured out how many mistakes online records do contain. For this, they looked at a large and diverse genus which includes the sweet potato - on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility database and found that 40% of these were outdated synonyms rather than the current name, and 16% of the names were unrecognizable or invalid.

Researchers think there can be many reasons behind these incorrect names. Naturalists might not have enough time to write detailed studies or monographs. A lot of new species are discovered so frequently which makes it difficult to name them properly. Then museums around the world are not linked up to each other, which also leads to mistakes.

The problem can be sorted out if researchers have a remotely access to species level’s taxonomy as well as DNA sequencing.


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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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