Data from: Taxonomic quality of species descriptions varies over time and with the number of authors, but unevenly among parasitic taxa
Cite this dataset
Poulin, Robert; Presswell, Bronwen (2016). Data from: Taxonomic quality of species descriptions varies over time and with the number of authors, but unevenly among parasitic taxa [Dataset]. Dryad. https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.j4j7q
Although concerns are being raised about a potential shortage of taxonomists and systematists, recent analyses suggest instead that the number of researchers involved in taxonomic descriptions is higher than ever and that the average number of new species described annually per taxonomist has declined in recent decades. Here, using nine metrics of taxonomic quality, such as the number of morphological traits measured, the number of separate line drawings included, and whether or not gene sequences are provided, we explore variation in taxonomic quality as a function of the number of authors and other potential determinants across 2366 descriptions of parasitic helminths published in 1337 articles between 1980 and 2014. Taxonomic quality has generally increased over time, but unequally among different groups of helminths. For example, the number of scanning electron micrographs per description has risen significantly over time in cestodes and nematodes, but decreased for digeneans. For most metrics used, the greater the number of authors per species description, the higher its quality, suggesting not more taxonomists but more collaborations between taxonomists and experts from other fields to produce more comprehensive species characterizations. Re-descriptions of species were of higher quality than their original descriptions, and the improved quality correlated with the number of years elapsed between them. However, the extent of this improvement varied among helminth species with different host taxa. Overall, our findings provide a note of caution for anyone using trends in the number of species described per author to extrapolate the total number of extant species. They also reveal cultural differences among taxonomists working on different groups of parasites that can serve to identify areas for potential improvement.