Taxonomists live in an age of technological riches. We have digital cameras, high-powered microscopes, DNA sequencers, computers, and boatloads of software for managing data. Each new technology is introduced with some party or other promising that the invention will speed the molasses-like pace of new species descriptions. After all, forests are falling in the name of progress, and if we don’t catalog what lives in them countless species will vanish without our knowing they even existed.
Given the new technology, though, my sense is most taxonomists aren’t using it to pick up the pace. Rather, taxonomists are craftsmen & women at heart. The tools are being used to provide better species, rather than more species. I am reminded of this trend towards thoroughness by a new revision of a small ant genus in Madagascar:
Abstract: The species-level taxonomy of the ant genus Meranoplus F. Smith from Madagascar is revised. Two new species, M. cryptomys sp. n. and sylvarius sp. n. are described from workers and queens; M. mayri Forel, 1910, and M. radamae Forel, 1891, are redescribed, and queens and males for these two species are described for the first time. The first diagnosis of Meranoplus males for any biogeographic region is provided based on Malagasy species. Illustrated keys to all known Malagasy castes and species are presented. Diagnoses are given for two species groups: the M. mayri group and the M. nanus group. The diagnosis of the M. nanus species group from Bolton (1981) is thereby expanded with six new characters. Two species are known from the M. mayri species group and seven described species are known for the M. nanus species group, including the two new species described herein. The mouthparts, genitalia, and all castes, where known, of Malagasy Meranoplus are illustrated.
This effort, by Brendon Boudinot (a regular commenter here at Myrmecos, btw) and Brian Fisher, is exemplary. Carefully illustrated right down to dissected genitalia, the monograph is a lesson in good species-level taxonomy.
The revision also clocks in at 40 pages for what amounts to 2 new species and redescriptions of just 2 more. A century ago, 40 pages would have held descriptions of 40 species, albeit many that were synonyms or inadequate for other reasons. While it’s hard to argue with good taxonomy, would accelerating the process be worth doing a slightly worse job in the interest of documenting our vanishing biodiversity?
(note: this is essentially the question asked by David Maddison here).
Boudinot BE, Fisher BL (2013) A taxonomic revision of the Meranoplus F. Smith of Madagascar (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmicinae) with keys to species and diagnosis of the males. Zootaxa 3635: 301-339.