Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures


Where Are the Taxonomists, and Does It Matter?

Event Name/Location

Botanical Society of America Meeting, Salt Lake City, Utah, July 31-August 5, 2004

Document Type


Publication Date



Taxonomist, Convention on Biological Diversity, Policy, Taxonomic impediment


The current biodiversity crisis leads to demands for the internationalization of taxonomy, however, many biologists are unfamiliar with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which enables such globalization. The CBD was instrumental in creating a global awareness of the "taxonomic impediment," the incomplete knowledge of taxa and the dearth of taxonomists worldwide. The impediment is most acute in tropical, developing nations, which contain most of the world’s biodiversity, yet produce far fewer taxonomists than developed countries. Two crucial ways to ameliorate the impediment are (i) increased study of taxa in developing nations and (ii) increased taxonomic training in developing nations. The CBD governs these solutions; yet, most US taxonomists are little aware of this new "global regime” that affects their professional lives. We analysed three membership databases American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT), Society of Systematic Biologists (SSB) and the World Taxonomists Database (WTD) to understand the dimensions of the problem. According to our analyses developed nations have the most taxonomists in the world (54%); the US having the highest fraction (20%): apparently US taxonomists must shoulder much of the responsibility in overcoming the impediment in biodiversity-rich countries. Due to greater institutional engagement, US taxonomists at herbaria, museums, botanic gardens, and zoos tend to be more aware of the CBD than those at universities. However, US universities need to become more engaged with the CBD because most US taxonomists (65%) work at universities.

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