Training in Tropical Taxonomy

Why is Taxonomy Important and Why do we Need to Train More Taxonomists?



Taxonomy, the science of finding, describing and naming organisms is vital to understanding the world's biodiversity.  Unfortunately, the ongoing effort to survey and inventory the world's biodiversity is limited by the shortage of taxonomic expertise in many groups of organisms.  Without taxonomists it is impossible to (1) describe and name new species (2) survey biodiversity and identify biodiversity hotspots or other areas of special conservation concern, and (3) correctly identify the source of DNA sequence data to be used for databases such as GenBank or the DNA bar-coding database.  The existing taxonomists are often swamped with material to identify for biological survey projects.  This results in a bottleneck at the identification stage.  Additional delays or failures result from the fact that many projects  do not have the basic knowledge to roughly sort the material, meaning that the experts have to spend time on tasks that could easily be accomplished by a biologist with some basic training.  Finally many organisms have to be prepared and preserved very carefully for the material to be suitable for identification.  If biologists conducting surveys are not aware of the appropriate way to treat each organism the material will be difficult or impossible to identify with any certainty.

The two main causes of the shortage of taxonomists are a lack of financial support for taxonomic studies  and the inaccessibility of taxonomists to train interested students (i.e., taxonomists are going extinct).

Inaccessibility of taxonomists to train the next generation is most particularly a problem in developing countries.  For example there are many phyla for which there is not a single taxonomist  in Latin America and there are some phyla or classes for which there are 5 or few active taxonomists in the world.  This makes it extraordinarily difficult for students who may be interested in taxonomy to obtain training.

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