Author inflation masks global capacity for species discovery in flowering plants.
Bebber DP., Wood JR., Barker C., Scotland RW.
Species discovery is a fundamental first step for all of biodiversity science. Recent research has claimed that the increasing number of authors associated with the description of new species represents an expanding workforce discovering the remaining new species from an ever-diminishing pool. Here, we present a comprehensive dataset from The International Plant Names Index (IPNI) of new species of flowering plant published between 1970 and 2011. We show that, on average, 1855 new species have been described annually since 1970. We show that compared to other scientific disciplines the increased number of authors on taxonomic papers is relatively small and may reflect changes in scientific practice rather than an increase in taxonomic capacity. These data, alongside published results demonstrating a lag period of 35 yr between a specimen being collected and published as a new species, strongly suggest that the global taxonomic capacity to describe new species of flowering plant is stagnant at a time of unprecedented concern for conservation and extinction.