Taxonomist Appreciation Day 19 March 2017

Linette Umbrello's blog | Created 1 month ago

The 19th March is Taxonomist Appreciation Day, a day when we say “thank you” for all of the hard work done by taxonomists around the world. Taxonomy is a branch of biology concerned with the classification, description and naming of organisms. With estimates of total species numbers on earth ranging from 8 million to 1 trillion (including mega-diverse groups such as algae and archaea), and only 1.6 million species currently named, there is a lot left to do! The taxonomic process is slow as once a new species has been found it must be formally named and described by an expert who must compare the new species with related specimens. Some groups, particularly small invertebrates, may only have a couple of experts in the world working on them and it can take decades to give names to all the new species. 

Black and white photo of two male staff examining rodent specimens

L. Glauert & W.D.L. Ride c. 1959, greatly contributed to early taxonomy research on WA fauna, particularly fossils and vertebrates. Photo: WA Museum

WA Museum taxonomists have been contributing to describing new species from Australia and the world throughout its history. In the early decades many specimens were sent to museums in Europe to be described, but the last 50 years or so has seen a shift with expert taxonomists working on WA fauna in the collections here. In 2016, one new family, 7 genera and 81 species were described through the WA Museum including: a fossil kangaroo, spider crab, tiny geckos, deep-sea Xenoturbella, subterranean arachnid, pseudoscorpions, land snails and a nudibranch.

Two books published by the WA Museum, frog and sea stinger on the covers

Besides describing new species, WA Museum taxonomists also produce field guides, provide content and specialist knowledge for exhibition displays, and assist state and national agencies with conservation and management strategies for threatened and invasive species. It is important to know what species are out there in order to conserve them! Some taxonomists also play a role in biodiscovery, which is the process of screening native biological resources (e.g. plants, fungi) for bioactive chemicals that can be used for medical treatments.

22 people pose for a photo inside

  WA Museum Taxonomists in 2017. Photo: J. Ritchie, WA Museum