It has long been known that natural history museums have drawers full of species that have yet to be described. Part of the problem is a general lack of government funding for taxonomy — the science of naming and classifying organisms.
In this article in Science, Bijal P. Trivedi reports on how a German non-profit organisation called BIOPAT is giving people the right to name new species in exchange for a donation to conservation science.
BIOPAT has so far facilitated more than 100 species sponsorships and raised more than US$450,000 for research and conservation. The funds it raises are split between the institute of the species' discover and research projects in the country where it was first found.
Among the species whose names have been 'sold' in this way are orchids, frogs, and insects from Bolivia, Madagascar and the Philippines.
BIOPAT is not alone: the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, for instance, recently auctioned the name of a new Bolivian monkey species online.
The approach has had a mixed reception. Some worry it could lead to fraudulent species descriptions, confuse the scientific naming system itself, and lead to people or companies buying species names in order to promote their own financial interests.
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Reference: Science 307, 1399 (2005)