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e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry


The International Institute for Species Exploration seeks to increase awareness of the biodiversity crisis and an appreciation for the importance of taxonomy, natural history, and collections in the exploration and conservation of animals, plants, and microbes.

IISE Scientific Advisors

Dr. Robert Scotland
Oxford University

Dr. Frank Krell
Denver Museum of Science and Nature

Dr. Antonio Valdecasas
Museo ciencias national

Although about 18,000 species are discovered and named each year, we are losing ground.   Species are disappearing at least as rapidly and unless we collect and describe them, evidence that they ever existed and all that we might have learned from them will be gone.

There are many reasons to explore species, including:

  • Conservation:  we cannot effectively conserve species that we do not know exist and that we cannot recognize.
  • Ecological networks:  we cannot fully understand the functions of complex ecological systems when we do not know the majority of their parts.
  • Biodiversity baseline:  it is impossible to measure rates of extinction, detect invasive species, or notice impacts of climate change on the flora and fauna unless we know what species exist, and where, to begin with.
  • Origins: because every evolutionary novelty is modified from an attribute of an ancestral species, we can never completely understand what it is to be human until we have told the whole story of the evolutionary history of which humans are a part.
  • Nature-inspired innovation:  Every species has something to teach us about solving the problems of survival.  Biomimicry is in its infancy, studying other species to discover clues to better materials, designs, and processes.

The Top 10 New Species list is released by the IISE each year on or about May 23rd, the birthday of Carolus Linnaeus, the “Father of Modern Taxonomy.”  Linnaeus’s work in the 18th century began an inventory of all species and established the foundations for modern naming and classification.  He is responsible for binominal nomenclature — the use of two-word names for each kind of living thing, comprised of a capitalized genus name combined with a lower case specific epithet, such as Homo sapiens — and the hierarchic classifications that categorize groups of species into genera, families, orders, classes, phyla, and kingdoms.

After more than 250 years, Linnaeus’ inventory continues.  He knew perhaps 10,000 species in his lifetime and had no way to anticipate that the total number of animals and plants is 10,000,000 or more… and that does not include the microbial world that may match or surpass that number.  To date we have named fewer than 2 million species so there are lots of animals and plants to discover and not much time in which to do it.

Taxon experts are scientists and scholars in the richest sense of the word.  They must read every description of a species written since 1758, study and compare thousands of specimens, master knowledge of hundreds of anatomical details, and understand the theories and methods of the discipline.  Their work is carried out in museums in capital cities of the world, remote field sites, and modern laboratories and culminates in an intimate knowledge and understanding of one or more taxonomic groups.

When modern cyberinfrastructure is mobilized to complete the comparative and descriptive work of taxonomy a highly efficient field emerges, cybertaxonomy.  The IISE is currently collaborating with major world natural history collections and the Dun, Inc. digital microscopy company to develop remotely operated microscopes with the promise to open museum collections to study by experts and students from anywhere in the world.  A major announcement for this IISE project is expected in a few months.

Imagine an advanced institute for species exploration. Scientists and engineers work together to combine the strengths of 250 years of experience doing taxonomy well with emerging cyber-infrastructure capabilities to invent a new generation of tools for 21st century taxonomy. Impediments of the past are identified and overcome. Leading minds from around the world converge to solve theoretical, philosophical, historical, sociological, technological and practical challenges. International museum and herbarium partners coordinate collection growth and development to maximize species representation. International teams of taxon scholars tackle species exploration on a planetary scale. Formal and public education programs inspire and prepare the next generation of species explorers. Imagine… an International Institute for Species Exploration.

Top 10 New Species of 2018

What on Earth?
by Quentin Wheeler and Sara Pennak

What on Earth book

What on Earth? is a compendium of the 100 coolest, weirdest, and most intriguing new species of this century as determined by the International Institute for Species Exploration.