A group spearheaded by Arizona State University taxonomists wants to launch a NASA-style mission to identify and describe all the world's 10 million species in the next 50 years. About 3 dozen taxonomists, informatics experts, ecologists, sociologists, and computer scientists met this week at the New York Botanical Garden and decided that in the past decade, technological improvements—primarily related to molecular tools and the digitization of collections (such as the Biodiversity Heritage Library)—make such a major undertaking possible. Already the National Science Foundation, through its Planetary Biodiversity Inventories for select groups of organisms has shown that intense, team efforts can speed the discovery and classification of unknown organisms, says meeting organizer Quentin Wheeler from Arizona State.
Currently taxonomists working mostly individually name about 20,000 species a year. The plan would just require increasing that number tenfold and such efficiency can be achieved if "we move taxonomy from a cottage industry to an industrial process," says Wheeler. He doesn't know how much such a project will cost, but the group intends to publish a report on their plan, which they hope will inspire the community to take action to begin to organize the effort.