Scientists review WoRMS

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Scientists consolidating the world databases of marine organisms into a new World Register of Marine Species have so far demoted one third of all reviewed names to aliases.

The names of approximately 122,500 unique marine species names have been validated already, while 56,400 have been recognised as describing a species already validated.

The scientists predict that they are about halfway through the census which, when completed by 2010, will contain the validated names (and all aliases) of the estimated 230,000 marine species known to science.

Of those species that have been named more than once, the Breadcrumb sponge, Halichondria panacea, is leading the way. The species has been given 56 latin names since it was first described in 1766.

It is hoped that the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) will help to clear up confusion over what is the valid name for a species, while at the same time providing all aliases so that centuries of literature can be understood.

The census, hosted by the Flanders Marine Institute, Belgium, also contains images, links to taxonomic literature and other information relating to the species.

Modern technologies allow unprecedented global collaboration to consolidate, validate and advance more than 250 years of research into the diverse species that live beneath the waves, says Dr. Edward Vanden Berghe, who initiated WoRMS. The World Register of Marine Species and the Ocean Biogeographic Information System will be major Census legacies.

However, although WoRMS will contain this validated information for all known marine species, there are estimated to be three times as many still undescribed in the ocean.

Dr Philippe Bouchet, a scientist involved in the WoRMS project, estimates that at the current rate of 1,400 new marine species entering scientific literature each year, it could take over five centuries to describe and validate them all.