Mapping the biosphere: exploring species to understand the origin, organization and sustainability of biodiversity
biodiversity, bioinformatics, biomimicry, biosphere, conservation, cyberinfrastructure, Ecology, evolution, international collaboration, organization of science, origins, species, sustainability, systematics, Taxonomy, team work
The time is ripe for a comprehensive mission to explore and document Earth's species. This calls for a campaign to educate and inspire the next generation of professional and citizen species explorers, investments in cyber-infrastructure and collections to meet the unique needs of the producers and consumers of taxonomic information, and the formation and coordination of a multi-institutional, international, transdisciplinary community of researchers, scholars and engineers with the shared objective of creating a comprehensive inventory of species and detailed map of the biosphere. We conclude that an ambitious goal to describe 10 million species in less than 50 years is attainable based on the strength of 250 years of progress, worldwide collections, existing experts, technological innovation and collaborative teamwork. Existing digitization projects are overcoming obstacles of the past, facilitating collaboration and mobilizing literature, data, images and specimens through cyber technologies. Charting the biosphere is enormously complex, yet necessary expertise can be found through partnerships with engineers, information scientists, sociologists, ecologists, climate scientists, conservation biologists, industrial project managers and taxon specialists, from agrostologists to zoophytologists. Benefits to society of the proposed mission would be profound, immediate and enduring, from detection of early responses of flora and fauna to climate change to opening access to evolutionary designs for solutions to countless practical problems. The impacts on the biodiversity, environmental and evolutionary sciences would be transformative, from ecosystem models calibrated in detail to comprehensive understanding of the origin and evolution of life over its 3.8 billion year history. The resultant cyber-enabled taxonomy, or cybertaxonomy, would open access to biodiversity data to developing nations, assure access to reliable data about species, and change how scientists and citizens alike access, use and think about biological diversity information.