Some species discoveries happen in a flash. Other times, however, the gap between discovery in the field and the official declaration of a new species can take years, even decades. In fact, the average amount of time, according to a new survey, is 20.7 years.
A survey conducted by Benoît Fontaine of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, looked at a random sample of 600 species described in 2007. The average "shelf life" for this group was 20.7 years, with a median of 12 years.
"Species new to science are almost never recognized as such in the field," Fontaine said. "Our study explains why it often happens that we describe species which were collected alive decades ago and which can be extinct now—just as astronomers study the light of stars which do not exist anymore."
"Our knowledge of biodiversity is still very scarce," Fontaine explained. Yet, taxonomic research remains poorly funded and unable to keep pace with the growing backlog of specimens. More field research, too, is needed as researchers are often reluctant to declare a new species from a single specimen.
Indeed, the findings suggest that for many endangered species around the world, science is too slow to even recognize their existence before they are wiped from the map.