THE WORLD IN A RUCKSACK. 100 Years of Natural Science Expeditions
Discoveries by Tartu’s natural science researchers
Diversity is the foundation of life on our planet. It is estimated that approximately ten million species currently live on Earth, a figure that many scientists regard as understated. Of this number, only two million species have been described, which means that the best part of the planet’s diversity is still unknown to humans. At the same time, the extinction of species on Earth has accelerated rapidly due to the exponential growth of human populations and the impact of human activity on the environment.
Starting in 1919, natural science researchers from Tartu have discovered and collected close to 900 new species, which they have also been the first to describe. This is a significant scientific contribution, considering the limited size of the country’s scientific community and its limitations of research funding.
What is a type specimen?
A type specimen is an original organism which is used to describe the newly discovered species and to which the scientific name of the species is attached. The species’ name is required to include certain elements: the name of the genus, the specific epithet, the name of the person who described the species and the year of description. Type specimens must be kept such that their long-term preservation is ensured and must be available to researchers. As a rule, type specimens are kept at museums. It is not always necessary to preserve the entire specimen – in some cases, a limited amount of material such as feathers, hair or blood may suffice. In the case of describing an especially rare or endangered species, it is also possible not to remove the type specimen from its natural habitat, using photographs, measurements or tissue samples as a substitute.