The IPY sister-projects CAML and SCAR-MarBIN provided a timely opportunity, a strong collaborative framework and an appropriate momentum to attempt assessing the “Known, Unknown and Unknowable” of Antarctic marine biodiversity. To allow assessing the known biodiversity, SCAR-MarBIN “Register of Antarctic Marine Species (RAMS)” was compiled and published by a panel of 64 taxonomic experts. Thanks to this outstanding expertise mobilized for the first time, an accurate list of more than 8100 valid species was compiled and an up-to-date systematic classification comprising more than 16,800 taxon names was established. This taxonomic information is progressively and systematically completed by species occurrence data, provided by literature, taxonomic and biogeographic databases, new data from CAML and other cruises, and museum collections. RAMS primary role was to establish a benchmark of the present taxonomic knowledge of the Southern Ocean biodiversity, particularly important in the context of the growing realization of potential impacts of the global change on Antarctic ecosystems. This, in turn, allowed detecting gaps in knowledge, taxonomic treatment and coverage, and estimating the importance of the taxonomic impediment, as well as the needs for more complete and efficient taxonomic tools. A second, but not less important, role of RAMS was to contribute to the “taxonomic backbone” of the SCAR-MarBIN, OBIS and GBIF networks, to establish a dynamic information system on Antarctic marine biodiversity for the future. The unknown part of the Southern Ocean biodiversity was approached by pointing out what remains to be explored and described in terms of geographical locations and bathymetric zones, habitats, or size classes of organisms. The growing importance of cryptic species is stressed, as they are more and more often detected by molecular studies in several taxa. Relying on RAMS results and on some case studies of particular model groups, the question of the potential number of species that remains to be discovered in the Southern Ocean is discussed.
In terms of taxonomic inputs to the census of Southern Ocean biodiversity, the current rate of progress in inventorying the Antarctic marine species as well as the state of taxonomic resources and capacity were assessed. Different ways of improving the taxonomic inputs are suggested.