Where are all the systematists?

Kristina Lemson k.lemson at ECU.EDU.AU
Thu Jun 20 11:35:07 CDT 2002

Here are some observations from a recently graduated Antipodean PhD in
Plant Systematics:

1. Plant systematics does suffer from a loss of people, certainly in
places other than the USA. There has not been a simple switch from
morphology to molecules, there has been a (pardon the word) systematic
DEFUNDING of systematics. An elegant case in point is the outrageous
demise of the resources of the Australian Biological Resources Study
(ABRS) which is responsible for the Flora of Australia, Fauna of
Australia etc.  This is particularly alarming when we consider the sheer
numbers of undescribed  especially "endemic" species that exist in
Australia, especially the south-west corner (which is on the list of
'Biodiversity Hot-Spots).

2. I was at an international conference two years ago and gave a talk
on my work on Andersonia (Ericaceae) which is based on morphology. I and
my co-students were asked directly to come to the US BECAUSE we knew
about morphology, species level taxonomy etc. while most over there were
working on molecules ONLY.

3. There is currently a graduated PhD in Systematics who has done a
Postdoc at Kew working at our local State herbarium DATABASING specimins
of all things. This is the most PATHETIC use of her skills I can
imagine, however ABRS and other funding bodies simply don't have the
money to fund our research anymore but the loacl botanical community
simply can't afford to lose her expertise. Hence the small trickles of
work that come her way. At age 30+, who will blame her if she runs off
to something else?

Dr. Kristina Lemson
School of Natural Sciences
Edith Cowan University
100 Joondalup Drive
Joondalup, Western Australia 6027

Ph +61 8 9400 5369
Fax +61 8 9400 5509

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