Taxonomy as a profession (again)

From time to time alarming news and views appear about a special ‘endangered species’: the taxonomist as a profession. Pearson et al. (2011) have now placed this development in a historical context and focus on the relationship between experts and amateurs.

They distinguish four major sources of taxonomists: professionals, amateurs, parataxonomists (local paid workers and inventory specialists trained by professionals), and natural history education for youth. The division of these sources are not at random, but constrained by economics.

A survey on the question “What do you need from professional taxonomists to make yourself more effective and happy as an amateur taxonomist?”, reveals that priorities are (1) facilitate specimen loans from museums and collections; (2) help obtain collecting and research permits; (3) share information about local contacts, specialists, and habitats; (4) provide educational opportunities to learn new procedures, techniques, and literature; and (5) help with page costs in publishing monographs and field guides.

From this a number of recommendations follow for professional taxonomists. Essentially it involves a two-step initiative. By consciously focussing time and energy on multiple ways to effectively expand the supply of taxonomists, and simultaneously influencing public policy so that the economic needs for the profession become obvious.

It will not be an easy way, but the danger is real and therefore the pressure to take action should also be felt by the professionals themselves. They cannot continue in the ‘good-old-fashioned-way’. 
If this blog only contributes a tiny bit to the aims set out above, it is a useful expenditure of my time.
Pearson, D.L., Hamilton, A.L., & Erwin, T.L., 2011. A recovery plan for the endangered taxonomy profession. – BioScience 61: 58-63.

One thought on “Taxonomy as a profession (again)

  1. Guanyang Zhang

    The ‘priorities’ for amateur’s are actually quite important and yet not always readily available for professionals. Taxonomists are still working in isolation and only talk to specialists of own group. But knowledge of local contacts and habitats and acquisition of permits often have to be shared or done with people from different taxonomic background. Where we can go and collect is often limited by what local contacts we know. For many places, potential local contacts do not publish in internationally known journals and they are essentially precluded from offering help.


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