Picture this, you are on an expedition to a distant and remote corner of the Australian Outback. An area so hot and dry that few scientists have ever dared visit, and yet, life persists. You are on your hands and knees peering down into a funnel trap at the base of a brick-red rock. Suddenly, something catches your eye, something unique. “Hey” you call to your field team “Come look at this cool bug I found! What do you think it is?!”.
Believe it or not, scenes like this are happening all over the world even now. From the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea, to our own back yards. In fact, I just left a talk given by fellow UMass ECO grad student where she showed some of the work she’s done to help describe a new species of gall wasp right here in southern New England, it is even named after her, Zapatella davisae. Each new species that is discovered and described by scientists is given its own two-part name, and categorized alongside all other known species. After hundreds of years of counting, cataloging, and organizing life on earth, scientists have named about 1.7 million species, but estimates of the true number of species on earth ranges from a total of 4 million to a staggering 1 trillion species of microbes alone! (http://www.pnas.org/content/113/21/5970.full.pdf)
Zapatella davisae, the recently described gall wasp described and named after UMass Amherst graduate student Monica Davis. Buffington et al. 2016
The base of the tree of life, showing the three Domains, and four Eukaryotic Kingdoms