Thursday, October 21, 2010

Taxonomy, an endangered science

The Pacific Voyage Media Team

21 October Nagoya Japan - Taxonomy is a dying skill in the Pacific region, it is the science of naming living organisms, describing them and classifying them according to an international code specifically used to classify species.

Not only is it a fading science in the Pacific, it is also under threat globally.  The concern at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity is the need for strong commitment and funding to address this problem.  It is hoped that at this meeting, there will be a common interest to actively work to revive the global capacity in the science of taxonomy.

While taxonomy has been addressed in previous Conferences of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, there has not been enough support.

“We are trying to get the attention of the world and parties to recognise that without building this capacity in taxonomy we are not able to implement a lot of objectives and targets that are talked about at this meeting,” said Dr. Posa Skelton, a taxonomist and the coordinator of the Pacific Invasives Learning Network (PILN).

“In order for us to be able to protect our biodiversity and ecosystems, we really need to understand what species are in our biodiversity and this is what taxonomy is.”

The Pacific region contains more endemic species than anywhere else on earth; almost 7% of the Worlds biodiversity is housed in Papua New Guinea in just 0.6% of global land area.  With such rich abundant biodiversity in the Pacific region new species are being discovered and named each year, however it is estimated that there is so much in our area that is still to be named, described and classified.

There are few Pacific taxonomists at work in the region which means this science is being carried out by those from outside of the Pacific.  When this happens, there is the risk that the information about Pacific organisms is published in international journals for which Pacific people don’t have access to, or fully understand.

“If we built capacity in the Pacific islands countries to do taxonomy, then we can understand the science more, explain it better and help raise awareness as to our Pacific biodiversity.  The thing with taxonomy is that it is not only science based, it is also linked to knowledge of use.  A lot of our biodiversity is used for traditional purposes and unless this if officially recorded, it is information that we are losing.”

While the “Aichi-Nagoya Statement”, an international strategic plan to protect biodiversity is forecast to come out of this conference, before that can happen is the need to know what the Worlds species are.

“Although the targets for the new strategy have not been finalised, most things which are being talked about at this conference requires the knowledge of taxonomy.  It is crucial that we strengthen this science.”

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