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Only 1.8 million of an estimated ten million species on Earth have been described. Up to 20 per cent face extinction, and countless more are disappearing unnoticed, potentially leading to less productive and stable ecosystems. There is therefore an urgent need to reinvigorate taxonomy, so that ecologists can make specific predictions that could help inform decisions about development and conservation.

This Nature editorial calls for more projects like the Sabah Biodiversity Project, set up partly by Charles Godfray, director of the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Population Biology, who has argued that taxonomy must become a web-based information science so knowledge is not lost.

Ecologists also need to look to the examples of high-profile climate change and genetics research, and to lobby governments for much greater backing. It may be hard to quantify the results of ecosystem research but sustainable forestry, agriculture and tourism will strengthen the economies of developing countries, and bring wider benefits to the rest of the world.

Link to full editorial in Nature

Reference: Nature 430, 385 (2004)