Daniel Janzen djanzen at SAS.UPENN.EDU
Sat Oct 5 12:41:55 CDT 2002

Paul Johnson asked me to forward this to the TAXACOM list serve (5 Oct 2002)

As I am presently enjoying the benefits of parataxonomists in Costa Rica, I
can vouch for the quality and extensiveness of training that Dan gave his
people and those that others of us helped train for INBio. The huge number
of specimens [of insects] collected from a wide array of habitats in a
relatively short period of time, and using the same techniques that us
"real" taxonomists use puts to shame some of our own itinerant sampling - as
well as the meagerness of collections in the north.  Further, the quality of
specimen preparation, data collection, curation, databasing, etc. is as good
or better than many graduate students.  These parataxonomists that Dan
speaks of are not amateurs, they were hired and trained to perform functions
just like the rest of us, and most of them do their jobs with great
professionalism; those that don't, get axed, just like employees in any
other job.  Unfortunately, recent budget cuts at certain agencies and
institutions that employ parataxonomists to great benefit are RIF'ing some
of them and other staff while failing to proportionately cut administrative
forces.  The evil of bureaucracy is at work again!

Paul Johnson

-----Original Message-----
From: Daniel Janzen
Sent: 9/29/02 10:40 PM
Subject: [TAXACOM] parataxonomists

Peter, thank you for the kind and quite accurate words.  Anyone who
like a detailed description and history of the parataxonomists in Costa
Rica, just drop us a note off list and we will send the pdf.   You can
some in action at in the methods section.
term was borrowed from "paramedic" and was meant to have the same
relationship to the Ph.D. taxonomist as the paramedic does to MDs.  We
basically conducted a 5-6 month boot camp in 1989-1992 where we taught
rural residents with minimal formal education to be able to do most of
things that you expect of a graduate student assigned to do an inventory
particular place, and then they went to do this as a career, some
there and some moving on to other jobs or up the ladder into
and curatorial positions in urban areas.  INBio (
then continued offering yet more parataxonomist courses.  There are
18 parataxonomists working in the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste in
northwestern Costa Rica, and INBio has several dozen operating in the
remainder of the country.   Scott Miller and his colleagues also have a
fine group of parataxonomists doing insect inventory in Papua New Guinea
(   For parataxonomists to work well, they
to be strongly embedded in an iterative collaboration between them in
field, collections institutions, taxonomists, and the remainder of the
taxasphere.  But they certainly have demonstrated that they can be a
addition to the overall taxonomic endeavor and challenge, and in doing
be an element in strengthening the in-country taxonomic process as well
increasing the output of the international effort.

Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs

>X-Sender: pstevens at
>Date:         Sun, 29 Sep 2002 16:13:15 -0400
>Reply-To: Peter Stevens <peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG>
>Sender: Taxacom Discussion List <TAXACOM at USOBI.ORG>
>From: Peter Stevens <peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG>
>Subject:      parataxonomists

>I am not sure who "real" taxonomists are (do I count? do I care? :>
>), but this definition of parataxonist is surely not how the term is
>used in places like Costa Rica where there are indeed
>parataxonomists.  I have the impression that parataxonomists may not
>have formal training in the minuteae of taxonomy, but are an integral
>part of the taxonomic enterprise.  They are paid, I think, and
>generate large numbers of excellent collections by virtue of
>focussing on an area and collecting throughout the years.  Perhaps
>somebody on the list knows about how the term has come to be quite
>popular, and how they operate - Dan Janzen may have been involved.
>Peter S.
>At 3:26 PM -0500 9/28/02, STEPHEN MANNING wrote:
>>I interpreted the term "parataxonomists (amateurs)" to mean, not
>>taxonomists who don't work for an institution, but rather persons who
>>probably don't have training in taxonomy but just like to just go out
>>botanize for fun, usually consulting real taxonomists for any
>>identifications or other information they are interested in.

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