Wednesday, January 26, 2011

IPBES and decline of taxonomists

It must be a tragic coincidence that at the moment that IPBES has been created, the world largest biodiversity project, the Census of Marine Life came to an end. The legacy of this project is just not what it ought to be, a new generation of taxonomists and institutions that continue the research.
After a decade and 650 million dollars, the Census of Marine Life represents one of the largest initiatives to document biodiversity on our planet. In some regards, it was a great success, supporting 2,700 scientists to produce 2,600 new scientific publications and thousands of new species descriptions. But as the Census ends this year, no agency or organization is offering to fill the funding void previously filled by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Perhaps more importantly, the Census, like many initiatives, did not provide long-term positions and appointments for those doing taxonomic work. Many biology departments within universities no longer employ a taxonomist. The remaining positions are relegated to museums.
Wired, January 19, 2011 Craig McClain

Is the situation that tragic? Isn't this a question of the perspective? Philippe Bouchet made some points relevant to this debate in his lecture at the EDIT-5 years meeting in Paris last week: There are more taxonomists, and we know more about the gaps. He also points out that the structure of taxonomist is not just professionals, but that there are plenty of amateurs, and most of the publications are not in journals with a high impact factor. The data is from his own work on marine organisms, of which some has been published in a book chapter "The Magnitude of Marine Biodiversity".

Similarly, Sandy Knapp made a point in the discussion that we should not forget, that we need just to talk about the taxonomists: There is a huge investment into a even larger infrastructure, i.e. our herbaria and natural history collections and museums, and that there is right now a large effort being made to digitize a substantial part of these collections in the US.

One might argue, that a lot has to do with context: What do we really know, and what does it mean in context?


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