New Life for Systematics

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Science  25 May 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5828, pp. 1097
DOI: 10.1126/science.1144898

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Earlier this month, the launch of the encyclopedia of life, an electronic database for the currently known 1.8 million species of the world, was announced. This coincides with the tercentenary of the birth of Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist who laid the foundation for modern systematics that predictively names and classifies organisms. At last, a complete inventory of Earth's biota is considered achievable. This goal has injected new life into the notion of systematic science as the very underpinning of biodiversity conservation. But do we need such systematics, and is a biodiversity inventory--probably at a cost comparable to that of the human genome project--really essential for human and planetary well-being?