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Fri 23 Jul 2004

News feature on Peter Ng and vanishing biodiversity in Nature

Category : news

The editorial of the prestigious journal Nature (vol 430, p. 385), "Ignorance is not bliss" [pdf] points out that with less than 20% of the estimated 10 million species of organisms on Earth described, up to 20% of known species in some taxa facing extinction and countless other disappearances going on unnoticed, we should be concerned of the unknown consequences, with ecologists unable to make specific predictions due to this gap in knowledge.

"If this is to change, we must reinvigorate taxonomy and describe the vast ranks of unnamed species. We need more passionate field workers, like Peter Ng of the National University of Singapore, whose efforts to catalogue neglected faunas are profiled (see below). And we must ensure that the results of their endeavours don't languish on dusty shelves."

Dennis, C. & P. Aldhous, 2004. Biodiversity: A tragedy with many players. Nature 430: 396 - 398 (22 July 2004) [pdf].

Biodiversity: A tragedy with many players
Peter Ng is a man with a mission: to catalogue the huge diversity of life dwelling in habitats long dismissed as uninteresting. It's a race against time, he tells Carina Dennis and Peter Aldhous.

"A tropical peat swamp is not a welcoming place. Its acidic waters sting every tiny scratch on your body. Hold your hands just beneath the surface and you can't see them through the tannin-laden water. The only bonus is that leeches don't fancy the murk. But Peter Ng, a taxonomist and conservation biologist at the National University of Singapore, loves getting up to his armpits in the mire.

Ng has discovered that the peat swamps of southeast Asia are teeming with rare species of fish and crustaceans, many of which are new to science. "Peat swamps have been badly neglected," says Ng, who pulls out novel specimens on nearly every dip into these hostile waters. His team has found a treasure trove of biodiversity in other unlikely places too, including the broken rubble of dead coral found off tropical beaches.

Now Ng is engaged in a race to catalogue these neglected faunas before many of them are wiped out by Asia's relentless economic development. The peat swamps, in particular, are being drained as fast as he can sample them, sometimes for urban or agricultural development, at other times - in a bitter irony - under the guise of 'environmental improvement'." ...

Read the complete article at Nature [pdf].

Thanks to Adrian Loo for the alert.

Posted at 1:55AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news