Taxonomists and Users: two species that rarely meet

Arthur Chapman taxacom2 at ACHAPMAN.ORG
Tue Apr 25 17:05:41 CDT 2006


A couple of issues I don't think you have fully covered include:

1. The increasing "desire/requirement" for funding bodies (users) to get some return for their money.  "Why should I continue funding taxonomy/data capture if I cannot easily use the results?"  This results in shifting of priorities and a "need" for taxonomists to become more productive and efficient, and more focussed on priority groups.

2. 250 years of traditional taxonomic research has resulted in a very small percentage of the earth's biota being described and the present rate of loss is approaching the rate of description and circumscription.  Do we want to (can we afford to) wait another 250 years to get to around 25% of the earth's biota described?  I see this as presure from "the environment" to become more efficient.  That can mean more taxonomists as well as improved productivity with the taxonomists we now have (see below).

3. Based on much of the above - Governments cannot wait 5, 10 years for new endangered species to be described before protecting them, and thus the need for "naming" as opposed to "descripion" of new taxa for incorporation into legislation.  Hence in some countries (e.g. Australia) the development of a formula name that can later be synonymised (e.g.  "Acacia sp. Dandaragan (S.van Leeuwen 269)" - a species listed under the countries EPBC Act 1999).

4) We need taxonomists to become more efficient at their work.  A large percentage of a taxonomists time (and financial resources) is now spent
  a) looking for copies of the protologues - the original description;
  b) looking for subsequest descriptions in floras/faunas;
  c) looking for the type specimens;
  d) borrowing specimens;
  e) databasing label information;
  f) rehashing/rewriting information for National Floras and Faunas, Global Floras etc.

The solutions I see to these are:
  a) Setting up a process to image and database protologues and link these to the names lists such as GBIF's ECat, Species 2000, IPNI, etc.
  b) databasing key biological texts (this process seems to have begun)
  c) supporting the databasing and imaging of type specimens
  d) supporting the imaging of specimens, and/or establishing on-line video links in key institutions so that a taxonomist in a remote locality can quickly look at specimens and select out a small number for borrowing. This has been tested with a number of instituitions and I understand successfully
  e) using data entry operators to database label information, thus freeing up the taxonomist to do taxonomy and not do routine work better done by others.
  f) begin using "flora writers", etc. to work with the taxonomists to rewrite the data into the new formats and allow the taxonomist to continue with core taxonomic work. Alternatively begin using character databases and software for documenting data in a form that automated key and related software can be used to produce draft output in a range of formats.

5. You mention 'flagship' taxa, but the list of 'flagship' taxa is not as small as I believe you are suggesting.  Increasingly large groups are being given priority (nematodes and soil microorganisms; insects important as pests, pollinators, biological control agents, disease vectors, etc.; invasive species - weeds and other pests; crop wild relatives and relatives of species with bioactive compounds; species that may become bioterrorism agents, etc., etc.).  There are many taxa that may have uses, but until there is usable information available to users, they will go elsewhere for the information (including using Google, Wikepedia etc.) and not rely on taxonomists.

6. As shown in other areas of endeavour (chemistry etc.) the more relavent and useable the information produced, the more demand for the information and hence the increase in support for the science and jobs.  I don't believe that taxonomy is any less relevant in this area.  By making our information more useable, the greater the likelihood that new funding sources will become available and thus not only make new positions available for applied taxonomists (i.e. those working on data of immediate use to users), but also to taxonomists wanting to work on taxa of less immediate demand by users.

My 2c worth

Arthur D. Chapman
Toowoomba, Australia

>From Fabian Haas <haas.smns at NATURKUNDEMUSEUM-BW.DE> on 25 Apr 2006:

> Dear All,
> based on discussions and experiences I could make on COP8 I wrote down
> some thoughts about:
>     Taxonomists and Users: two species that rarely meet
> I always was surprised to see that both users and taxonomists constantly
> and almost obstinately fail to communicate. This text should shed some
> light on this situation. I dont think it is a 'final' text, so new ideas
> and hints are always welcomed. Please feel free to send the link to
> others, and sorry for double posting!
> Best
> Fabian
> --
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