[Taxacom] Status of Canadian Taxonomic Science

Fabian Haas fhaas at icipe.org
Tue Jan 26 01:07:52 CST 2010

Dear All,

I did not read the mentioned paper carefully, but I also draw from my 
work as National Focal point of the Global taxonomy Initiative in Germany.

I do agree that looking at 3 to 6 Canadian Journals to infer on the 
productivity of Canadian Taxonomist is not sufficient. Here we might 
detect a shift in focus in the Journals rather that in the number of 
taxonomists. I wonder if I ever published in a German journal. And as 
taxonomy is an global enterprise, there is a good chance that the 
Canadian colleagues publish abroad.

On the other hand, looking at the employment numbers at museums and 
universities is valid, and frightening, as taxonomy has essentially 
disappeared from universities and museums had budget cuts. certainly 
valid and true what packer et al find.

The funding is a tricky thing, and it is a discussion with some history! 
Before the DNA Barcoding, it was about organisations like GBIF and 
biodiversity informatics. To my knowledge there has been no study that 
would show a factual link between reduced funding in taxonomy and these 
institutions and DNA Barcoding.

There certainly is a coincidence in the trends, however one could argue, 
that taxonomy funding is diminishing anyway, and as it happens, the 
funding for DNA and GBIF (and others) is increasing anyway. For Germany, 
there might be supporting arguments, in as much, as Germany is a federal 
country and most museum  and universities are financed by the 
Laender/States/Provinces, and they make their budget decisions on rather 
domestic reasons. Quite simply, do we have the money to finance a museum 
and all staff? Often enough they said no, and slashed positions whenever 

Now the money for GBIF comes from the national level, which in turn 
would never be available for financing museum positions. And I doubt 
that the federal Ministry of Research and Education (in charge of GBIF) 
has ever funded something connected to taxonomy.

So in order to find out if DNA is funded at the expense of traditional 
taxonomy, one would have to ask the project funders if they make any 
such decision, or if they have one pot of money for basic research, and 
then the participants have to compete. This in the end might reduced the 
funds for taxonomy, as it appears less fancy than DNA barcoding.

In the end I do have the impression, that taxonomy (through CBD) 
receives more funding than before, however, this money goes at 
non-traditional places and is not materialising in positions at 
institutions, esp not in permanent positions. This is a key issue, since 
building up taxonomic competence usually takes some years and hobbing 
between the taxa is not an option, which make taxonomist less felxible 
for all kinds of project work, and prevents something like a career 
option for young scientists.

In the developing world, I am now in Kenya, it is -increasingly as I 
would say- difficult to get finding for anything which smells like 
taxonomy or biodiversity research. Donors want quick and easy results 
and applications and implementation. You here more and more often, that 
"We are not interested in you research, we want implementation". What is 
supposed to be implemented without doing some research in the beginning 
seems unclear to me. Anyway. So far some lose thoughts on the topic.


Kipling (Kip) Will wrote:
> Dear Taxacomers,
> I would be very interested to see what members of this list think of a 
> recent paper by Packer et al. (2009. The status of taxonomy in Canada 
> and impact of DNA barcoding. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 87:1098-1110.)
> The discussion is important as a panel will convene this week to 
> determine the status and future direction of taxonomy and biodiversity 
> science in Canada http://www.scienceadvice.ca/biodiversity.html
> If you have an informed opinion, it might be useful for your colleagues 
>   on the panel (see link above) to hear from you.
> The analysis in the paper above uses a small number of Canadian journals 
> (3) to determine trends in taxonomic output. A quick search of any 
> typical database (e.g. Zoological record) for authors with Canadian 
> addresses and new species descriptions does not show the strong trend 
> they portray. Though the notion that funding for taxonomic research has 
> declined seems obvious enough, their measure does not seem to provide a 
> realistic view.
> Additionally, output is measured as number of new species (a 
> questionable metric at best), but the most peculiar comparison is 
> between “Total new species”, a questionnaire-based number of all 
> presumed new species, published or not, for labs funded by Barcode money 
> vs. only published new species from labs otherwise funded.
> The basic premise seems questionable as well. Where they get the 
> quotation “DNA barcoding has taken funds away from traditional 
> approaches to taxonomy” is unknown to me. When critiquing DNA barcode 
> methods my co-authors and I always took great pains to point out that 
> *future funding*, not existing lines of funds, would be directed to 
> barcoding over future *integrative taxonomic research*, not "traditional 
> taxonomy". Perhaps this committee will be a test of our idea. In any 
> case, very few people are interested in holding the status quo, so this 
> seems a poorly stuffed straw man.
> Kip Will


fhaas at icipe.org, Extension -2052

The African Insect Taxonomy Toolkit AITT 

Dr. Fabian Haas
Insect Taxonomist and ABS Specialist
ICIPE - African Insect Science for Food and Health
Duduville Campus, Kasarani
P.O. Box 30772 - 00100

Telephone No. 	+254 (0)20 8632000
Fax No.	+254 (0)20 8632001
Cell Phone	+254 (0)728 132868

This position is supported by CIM, the Centre for International Migration www.cimonline.de

More information about the Taxacom mailing list