1 Tahrcountry Musings: Good Taxonomists – An endangered lot

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Good Taxonomists – An endangered lot

There is undoubtedly a decline in good taxonomists worldwide. Juxtapose this against the fact that there is an estimated 5.4 million yet-to-be-discovered animal species. Researchers have identified 1.4 million animal species so far. At the current pace of 16,000 new animal species cataloged annually, it will take 360 years to complete the job. On an average, each taxonomist describes about 25 new species during his or her career. Recently tiger beetle specialist David Pearson of Arizona State University in Tempe said "There are not going to be more taxonomists in the future. It's just a pipe dream as far as I'm concerned,"
The recent comments of Dr David Pearson of Arizona State University are very pertinent here. He calls for inclusion of more amateurs and laypeople, who are already making substantial taxonomic contributions but whose work is often marginalized by turf-jealous academics. He says if you have a pair of binoculars or a microscope, there are at least 5 million species out there awaiting your gaze.
It is against this backdrop that I found a recent paper titled “Recovery Plan for the Endangered Taxonomy Profession” authored by David L. Pearson, Andrew L. Hamilton, and Terry L. Erwin published in BioScience very interesting. They propose changes in priorities for training taxonomists to reverse the trend. Here is the gist of what they say “Academically trained professionals, parataxonomists (local assistants trained by professional biologists), youths educated with an emphasis on natural history, and self-supported expert amateurs are the major sources of taxonomists. Recruiting effort from each category is best determined by public attitudes toward education, as well as the availability of discretionary funds and leisure time. Instead of concentrating on descriptions of species and narrow studies of morphology and DNA, the duties of the few professional taxonomists of the future also will be to use cyberspace and a wide range of skills to recruit, train, and provide direction for expert amateurs, young students, parataxonomists, the general public, and governments”.

Recovery Plan for the Endangered Taxonomy Profession
BioScience 61(1):58-63. 2011
doi: 10.1525/bio.2011.61.1.11

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