Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: The view from an obligately biotrophic fungus

Posted on behalf of Professor Levente Kiss, Centre for Crop Health, Institute for Agriculture and the Environment, University of Southern Queensland

Prof. Kiss writes: As a newcomer in the Australian scientific community (I started to work here this year), I am deeply impressed by, and highly value, the Decadal initiative. During the past >25 years, I have been mainly interested in the biology, and taxonomy, of obligate biotrophic fungi, so I’ll focus on this group below.


We’d like you to scan the horizon, and share what you see.

It is an ‘easy’ assumption that during the next years more and more DNA loci will be used for taxonomic purposes. In fungal taxonomy, these new, or already exploited loci may not be useful for the whole Kingdom, and could be lineage-specific, as already shown in some cases by Schoch et al. (2012). (If interested, see my commentary about this paper: Kiss 2012). By the way, the identification of phylogenetically / taxonomically relevant lineage-specific DNA markers could be a general trend in future taxonomic works, within each Kingdom. Also, it is likely that whole genome analyses will be more widely used in taxonomic works, although this approach will always be limited by availability of funds, no matter how inexpensive will sequencing become, and methodology constrains, as well.

One aspect, which, in my opinion, has sometimes been forgotten, or at least neglected, especially in fungal (and, more generally, in microbial) ‘phylogeny only’ taxonomic works, is that, after all, different taxa have to be recognized as entities held together through gene flow. In obligate biotrophic fungi, where neither growth nor asexual and sexual reproduction are possible without being structurally and nutritionally linked to the living host tissues, gene flow cannot be envisaged if the respective fungi do not share the same hosts. However, in some groups of such strictly host-associated fungi, current practice is to apply the same taxon name for organisms that are unable to meet, and recombine, in/on the same hosts due to their narrow host specializations, but share identical, or highly similar, DNA barcode sequences. It has long been highlighted that gene phylogenies should not regarded as species phylogenies (Doyle 1992); however, the DNA barcode approach, as a quick-and-dirty method, has often been used in describing, for example, strictly host-associated taxa without taking in consideration obvious constraints in gene flow.

Where would you like taxonomy and systematics to be in a decade?

In obligate biotrophic fungi, when it comes to the future of taxonomy, my prediction is that their experimentally revealed host range, and, thus, the detection of whether gene flow is at all possible within a newly recognized taxon, will be much more considered during species descriptions, and will become a basic requirement in this process, in addition to developing better phylogenies for different taxa. Personally, I don’t think this approach can be skipped by whole genome analyses, as host specificity may be determined by a very small fraction of the genome, which may remain unrevealed when performing analyses of huge datasets.

What achievements or programs would you like to see in place? What milestones would you like us to pass?

I assume sequencing coupled with new DNA barcode developments, with direct taxonomic implications, will continue, and will always be fueled by the biotech sector. Specific taxonomic and/or biodiversity programmes (such as many more ABRS projects) focusing on those groups of organisms (in our case: fungi), which are challenging from a methodological point of view, and require specific approaches, in addition to the sequencing work, would lead to real breakthroughs in this field.

What innovations in technology, infrastructure, funding or organisation will make a big difference to your work and to our taxonomy and systematics?

I’d focus on the taxonomy of those groups of organisms (fungi) which are difficult to handle, due to their specific way of life (e.g., obligate biotrophs vs. free-living fungi). In taxonomy, personal expertise, special skills, are usually much more important than special infrastructure, therefore funding schemes should focus on key scientists and their students (i.e., salaries, fellowships), and should provide long-term support. In the USA, the NSF PEET scheme seems to be a great initiative to support taxonomic research, and especially training a new generation of taxonomists:

https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5451

References

Doyle JJ (1992) Gene trees and species trees: Molecular systematics as one-character taxonomy. Syst. Bot. 17: 144-163.

Kiss L (2012) Limits of nuclear ribosomal DNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences as species barcodes for Fungi. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109: E1811.

Schoch CL, et al. (2012) Nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region as a universal DNA barcode marker for Fungi. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109: 6241-6246.

The Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: Validation of Australia’s vascular plant collection data

Herbarium collections are the primary source of verifiable data on Australia’s flora. The information associated with each collection — including the taxon name and its locality — underpins research across a broad range of disciplines. Thanks to advances in cyber-infrastructures and the development of novel bioinformatics tools and techniques, biodiversity and distribution data can now be explored and analysed within a phylogenetic and environmental framework, providing a greater evolutionary understanding of our flora and novel data to inform conservation planning. However, to maximise the outcomes of big data analyses it is imperative that we improve the quality of the data upon which these analyses are based.

Specimen identification errors are commonplace in herbaria and are not confined to taxonomic groups that lack a recent monograph — they also exist (to varying degrees) in groups that have been revised in the past 40 years, most notably in collections that have been made subsequent to a taxonomic treatment or have otherwise not been examined by the treatment’s author. Geocode errors (e.g. mistakes made at the point of data entry, miscalculations and labelling errors) are similarly rife, and can be extreme to relatively minor in magnitude.

Taxonomic and geographic errors in our biodiversity data reduce our knowledge of a taxon’s distribution and habitat requirements, result in the dissemination of inaccurate information to our stakeholders (e.g. incorrect distribution maps, wrongly identified voucher specimens and photographs), undermine the results and interpretation of phylogenetic studies and the accuracy of spatial analyses or environmental modelling, and may significantly impact conservation planning at the species or regional level. Furthermore, a significant amount of useful, high quality data remains inaccessible in specimen backlogs.

By 2028 all vascular plant collections in Australian Herbaria will be audited for taxonomic and geographic accuracy

The audit should include: a taxonomic assessment of all collections, with an emphasis on those that have not been verified by a taxonomic expert; cross-checking duplicates of a single gathering housed at different herbaria to ensure that they have matching identifications (and are therefore represented by just one dot on Australasia’s Virtual Herbarium); preparation, database and taxonomic verification of all backlog materials, including undatabased collections that are currently on loan to other institutions; and validation of locality and geocode information, particularly for all geographical outliers that have been taxonomically confirmed. It would be possible to value-add to this process by capturing information on the reproductive state of every specimen (i.e. whether flowering, fruiting or sterile) thereby informing future collection needs and phenological research.

An audit would lead to the discovery of new taxa and new populations of conservation-listed taxa. Indeed, many scientists are undoubtedly already aware of new taxa that are represented in herbarium collections but are not yet on the National Species List — this knowledge should be captured as part of this process, particularly if taxonomic publications are unlikely to be forthcoming in the short-term. 

An audit would improve the quality of data fundamental to our understanding of Australia’s biodiversity and its evolution. It would underpin the eFlora of Australia, enabling more accurate descriptions and distribution maps to be generated, and would improve the quality of derivative products such as regional or taxon specific Apps and field guides. An audit would have tangible conservation outcomes, providing better information for individual taxa and improving analyses directed at conservation planning and decision making, and would also reduce the amount of time required for data cleaning prior to a large-scale analysis.

Identification errors often arise from imperfect taxonomic knowledge and as such an audit of this nature could not be completely uncoupled from baseline taxonomic research; however, it would focus attention on future research needs (e.g. specimens, species or groups in need of further research could be flagged and prioritised; potential student research projects could be highlighted) and collection gaps.

We will need a significant number of skilled research scientists and identification botanists to conduct a taxonomic audit of collections at their home institution, collections originating from their home state but housed at other national herbaria, and specimens belonging to their taxonomic speciality groups. We will also need additional curatorial staff to database backlog material, validate questionable geocodes and localities, perform database edits and maintain existing collections (e.g. duplicates from other states). Staffing levels will need to be maintained into the future to ensure incoming collections are processed and verified without major delay.

Our collections underpin everything — let’s give them the attention they deserve.




Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: Collection and characterisation of parasites and symbionts alongside their hosts

Posted on behalf of Dan Huston - PhD Candidate, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland


Organisms do not exist in isolation. Rather they exist in a web of complex associations with other organisms across space and time. Parasites and other symbionts are intimately associated with their host organisms and represent a massive component of global biodiversity. This component is mostly unseen, and rarely considered during biodiversity and ecological surveys or in conservation planning. Threats to biodiversity are amplified in parasite and symbiont populations, and host-specific lineages are likely to face extinction before their hosts. If we seek to characterise all of Earth’s biodiversity then, we must consider symbionts. Obviously, study of these organisms requires examination of their hosts, and therefore presents excellent collaborative opportunities for systematic biologists working on various groups. However, most parasites and symbionts have specific collection protocols required for producing specimens of a quality useful for taxonomy. Therefore I propose that:

By 2028, we will have established and implemented a collaborative support network dedicated to the collection and characterisation of parasites and symbionts, alongside characterisation of their hosts.

It could be called something that would result in a hip acronym like ‘Systematics of Symbionts and Parasites Support Network’ (SSAPSN). The major goal of the network would be to facilitate parallel host and symbiont collection efforts through coordinated collecting expeditions and training about parasite and other symbiont collection techniques. This will result in more impact per unit of collecting effort and more complete biodiversity collections in museums and other institutions for current and future research. Collaborative efforts between those systematic biologists studying hosts, and those studying the symbionts of said hosts may be seen as a better value for money and could increase grant application success, and may lead to cross-field citations of research papers. Most importantly, such efforts will give us a better understanding of life and the complex interactions between organisms in general.

Examples of the importance of considering parasites and symbionts in the future of taxonomy and systematics can be gleaned from many of the challenges already posted here on Noto | Biotica. Elaine Davidson’s challenge to explore the diversity and potential of microorganisms highlights the value these organism have to humans in terms of medicine, agriculture and industry. The many endosymbiotic microorganisms present in plants and animals are sure to provide novel chemical processes and enzymes of value to us. Kevin Thiele’s posts ‘every Australasian species genomed’ and ‘life in the late Anthropocene’ challenge us to collect tissue samples for all Australasian biota and sequence their genomes. While many of the tissue samples required are already in museums, such an endeavour will still require a huge collecting effort. These collecting events should be coordinated between systematic biologists across disciplines so that both host tissue and symbiont tissues can be collected concurrently. Nerida Wilson challenged us to double the number of described coral reef taxa by 2028. This topic hits close to home as much of my PhD research has been on coral reef parasites. We have only just begun to scratch the surface in terms of understanding parasite and symbiont diversity on the Great Barrier Reef and increased effort in characterising these organisms will greatly aid in doubling the number of described species for the region. Juliet Wege’s post ‘Obtain high quality collections of all undescribed vascular plant taxa’ highlights the difficulties inherent in acquiring these specimens from remote areas, and the need to execute targeted field expeditions to take advantage of seasonal weather conditions. Expeditions for rare plants could benefit from a nematologist to collect and study plant-parasitic nematodes and an entomologist to collect and study associated insects. A simple alternative would be training in the collection of these organisms for the botanists tasked with undertaking such expeditions. I fully understand that having collectors plan on collecting symbiont organisms alongside the stuff they are really interested in is a big ask, so including extra personnel on such expeditions focused on symbionts would be ideal. In the end however, any collection would be better than none.

The obvious first step towards building such a network is a level of organisation and a platform for communication. The existence of the SASB and now Noto | Biotica already gets us most of the way there. Noto | Biotica could be used as a news platform to help connect parasite and symbiont systematic biologists with those studying other groups, coordinate collection events, ‘wanted organism’ ads, etc. Because many parasites and symbionts are hidden in not so obvious locations in their hosts, and many require specialised fixation and preservation, workshops designed to train other systematic biologists in how to find these organisms and how to preserve them would be beneficial. Perhaps some small grants could become available for biologists undertaking collecting expeditions to cover the cost of extra field days and equipment to collect symbionts, or perhaps travel grants could be used to bring a parasitologist (we make for interesting dinner conversation) along on the trip. At the very least, a better awareness of all those organisms that exist under cover of their host is sure to lead to significant progress in the task of characterising all of Earth’s biota.

Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: Let's digitally image all (or most) of our type specimens

 Posted on behalf of Kenny Travouillon, Curator of Mammalogy, Dept. of Terrestrial Zoology, Western Australian Museum


  1. By 2028 we will have digitalised the majority of type specimens in museum collections and made them available to researchers, industry and the general public.
  2. This will result in increased productivity of taxonomists, and make it easier to identify species in the field.  Several museums have already digitalised their type specimens and made them available on their website to the public, but achieving complete online access to all type data will help taxonomists recognise named species from new species more easily and also help create field guides, with keys to identify species in the field. This can not only be done for modern species, but also for fossil species, collected from more fragmented material.
  3. This matters because the taxonomic process is still a very slow process which requires years of research before making new species discovery. Yet, species are going extinct at an increasing rate, but many remain unnamed or have yet to be discovered. Digital access to type specimens will help speed up this process and get on with the job of conserving taxa earlier. Having a tool to make species identification in the field easier will also help researchers and industry with population monitoring. 
  4. Resources to achieve this will be funding to help institutions to hire additional staff to digitalise the collections, as well as IT staff to make this information available online for access by anyone. 

The Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: Obtain high quality collections of all undescribed vascular plant taxa

New taxa continue to be discovered through examination of herbarium collections, regional surveys and botanical assessment of areas proposed for development; however, their taxonomic resolution and publication is often hampered by a lack of high quality (or even reasonable quality) material to serve as a type gathering or to enable the taxon to be adequately described. Many putative new taxa are represented by just one or a few collections that are fragmentary or lack key diagnostic features such as flowers or fruits.

By 2028 we will ensure that high quality collections of all undescribed vascular plant species (our known unknowns) will be made available for study in herbaria.

In the face of escalating threats to our biodiversity, there is a pressing need for a targeted collection effort to underpin taxonomic and systematic research, conservation planning and decision making. We need to act now or we risk undescribed species going extinct before they are adequately recorded. High quality collections can serve as type material and will enable reliable morphological descriptions to be generated, thereby facilitating accurate identification and on-ground conservation actions. Ancillary collections (e.g. samples for molecular studies, photographs, live material) could feed into other proposed 2028 goals (e.g. a genomic ark, stakeholder engagement) and ex situ conservation strategies.

For some undescribed species, obtaining good collections will be fraught with difficulties — many occur in remote or otherwise difficult to access areas, lack accurate geocode or locality information to enable them to be easily relocated, or require good seasonal conditions or fire to stimulate flowering. Furthermore, repeated visits to the same site may be required in order to collect adequate samples. We will therefore need skilled and energetic personnel to assess collection gaps, plan and conduct complex, targeted field expeditions or to otherwise co-ordinate regional personnel and skilled citizen scientists. Curatorial support will be essential for specimen processing, database and maintenance so that the specimens and their data can be made available for use by scientists.

An effort such as this would negate a major impediment to describing our vascular plant flora. And perhaps by the time this material is obtained, processed and ready for study, a future generation of skilled taxonomists with permanent positions will be in place and able to use these collections to best effect.


Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: A vision for fungal taxonomy and systematics

Posted on behalf of Alistair McTaggart, Postdoctoral Fellow, Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), University of Pretoria. Email: alistair.mctaggart@gmail.com

Web Pages: FABI profile (current employment), Google Scholar profileRust Fungi of Australia (taxonomy of rust fungi from prior post doc), Smut Fungi of Australia (taxonomy of smut fungi), Rust Fungi of Southern Africa (taxonomy of rust fungi in South Africa from current post doc)

Background

I am an early career researcher interested in the systematics of rust and smut fungi, which are both groups of plant pathogenic fungi. I dabble in the taxonomy of all other microfungi. I am currently based in South Africa and am being trained in genomics. I believe genomics is the best field to resolve the taxonomy and long-standing biological questions for my taxa of interest.

My answers largely reflect the field for taxonomy of fungi.


Where would you like taxonomy and systematics to be in a decade?

For pure taxonomy, I would like to see incorporation of new taxa into comprehensive, dynamic, public platforms, and an end to esoteric monographs. Taxonomy and application of a name should be accessible to everyone. This is possible through the development of public Lucid and Silverlight keys (here is an example of my friend Tim’s key to Carex in the United States: http://tinyurl.com/zjodnbb) that are open for collaboration within the community and are easy for non-experts to use. Single species descriptions are fine, but without incorporation into a bigger taxonomic picture, they pass by unnoticed. The community needs to embrace bigger picture treatments for their organisms. In the world of rust and smut fungi (and others), it’s already happening!

For systematics, I would like (and think it will happen) a total shift to phylogenomics, even if this means including a few loci of a taxon into a phylogenomic dataset. Cryptic species are rife in the mycological world and morphology only gets a taxonomist so far. Experts of a group rely on molecular barcodes and might not be able to make a confident identification of species (or genera) without molecular data. Mycologists have gradually progressed from single loci, to concordant and concatenated phylogenetic species hypotheses. Last year, we saw the first phylogenomic study of Zygomycota, which was casually published in a low-impact (but excellent quality) mycology journal. This will be the standard in the future. The sooner we get there, the sooner people will stop changing the taxonomy with every new gene they sequence. People working on genomic data will determine markers that may resolve a particular group, or markers that need to be included to determine populations, species, genera, families… The mycological community (at least) is going to have to embrace phylogenomics because this will happen within a decade (1K Fungal Genomes almost complete). This month I sequenced my first genome on a MinION (NanoPore™) with a desktop computer. In 10 years such a procedure will be less exciting for those taking part, and huge amounts of data will be at our fingertips.

What achievements or programs would you like to see in place?

Opportunities similar to the 1K Fungal Genomes project (or 10K Plant Genomes) for Australian taxa, particularly microorganisms.

High Performance Computing facilities made publicly available to researchers that need to work with large datasets (compare to the CHPC in South Africa).

Secure, electronic repositories to store genomic sequencing data before (and after) genomes are uploaded to public databases.

What innovations in technology, infrastructure, funding or organisation will make a big difference to your work and to our taxonomy and systematics?

  • Technology to sequence genomes from small amounts of starting material (such as Chromium 10X).
  • Desktop sequencing platforms (such as MinION).
  • Reduced cost of genome sequencing.
  • Access to electronic storage and high performance computing.

Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: No net loss of FTE dedicated taxonomists

Posted on behalf of Dr Glenn Moore, Curator of Fishes, Department of Aquatic Zoology, Western Australian Museum


  1. By 2028 we will have no net loss of FTE dedicated taxonomists Australia-wide
  2. This will result in  security of taxonomic capacity and prevent the ‘brain drain’.
  3. This matters because there has been a well-documented global decline in dedicated taxonomists over the past few decades (eg Boero 2010; Disney 1998; Drew 2011).  This is despite the increasing need to understand the basic units of environmental, ecological, climate change and related research.  While much of the Decadal Plan is focussed on raising awareness of the role of taxonomy and its obvious importance to all fields of biological research, we also need to draw a line in the sand and stop any further reductions in taxonomic capacity in Australia.  We argue, with good reason, for increased staffing, training and students in the field, but this relies on increased funding.  The first step is to stop the decline, which already operates within funded models (at least to some degree).  Capacity needs to increase by 2028, but at the very least we must ensure it doesn’t decrease!
  4. Resources to achieve this will be recognition of the role of taxonomy, support from administrators, funding

Boero, F. (2010). The Study of Species in the Era of Biodiversity: A Tale of Stupidity. Diversity 2: 115.
Disney, H. (1998). Rescue plan needed for taxonomy. Nature394(6689), 120.
Drew, L. W. (2011). Are We Losing the Science of Taxonomy? As need grows, numbers and training are failing to keep up. BioScience61(12), 942-946.

Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: Greater engagement with the public and end users of taxonomy

Taxonomy is a field that celebrates the immense diversity of life and allows for effective communication across not only scientific disciplines related to biology, but also for a whole range of other fields and industries that are crucial to our society (e.g. medicine, biosecurity, horticulture etc.). Its central role across these disciplines often goes unnoticed and in many cases underappreciated (e.g. Garnett & Christidis 2017). 

The level of success that we hope to achieve from our decadal plan (and indeed also with all subsequent plans after it) will invariably depend on the support of not only the systematic and scientific community, but also the larger community as a whole. Therefore, I propose that:

By 2028 we will achieve greater awareness, appreciation, and engagement from the wider public about the role and importance of taxonomy and systematics.

This will only result in outcomes that will inevitably benefit taxonomy and systematics which in turn contributes to the wider society. E.g. Greater funding (hopefully!) for taxonomic research and infrastructure development due to an increased appreciation and demand for taxonomic knowledge from the public.

Resources to achieve this will include:

First, broad surveys conducted during the start of the decadal plan followed by subsequent surveys at regular intervals (e.g. annually), allowing us to quantify and track our progress. Consultation and collaboration across the systematic society and social sciences would be particularly important in this case.

Similar initiatives have been noted, for example a survey was conducted during last year’s ASBS conference at Alice Springs targeted to our systematics community, and for botanical collections (e.g. the State Botanical Collection Significance Assessment, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria 2016), though none has been conducted to the wider public at present.

With awareness comes appreciation, and with appreciation comes engagement – a crucial component for any endeavour. Questionaires can be constructed following this order:

1)   Awareness:

Example Q: Are you familiar with the fields of taxonomy and systematics? Y/N

Example Q: Are you aware of what a herbarium is? (*most people I’ve asked don’t!) Y/N

Example Q: Do you think herbaria and museums play a role in the fields of taxonomy and systematics? Y/N

Example Q: What do you think are the roles of a taxonomist or systematist?

2)   Appreciation:

Example Q: How important do you think the fields of taxonomy and systematics are to our society?

rank from 1–5 (for economic importance, scientific importance, cultural importance etc.)

Example Q: How important do you think the fields of taxonomy and systematics are in understanding and classifying the diversity of life?

rank from 1–5

3)   Engagement:

Example Q: Is the level of engagement of the taxonomic community with the broader public and end users sufficient?

rank from 1–5

Example Q: How can we improve our level of engagement?

The brief example above is targeted for the broader general public. Similar surveys can be created for specific groups of end users such as consultants, horticulturalists, or even other scientists who are not in the fields of taxonomy or systematics. Questions can be crafted following discussions and consultations with members of our community.

Establising a baseline survey will be critical in monitoring our progress. E.g. what percentage of the public is aware of the roles that taxonomists and systematists have?

In addition, these surveys will allow us to tailor our approach and invest in areas that we are currently lacking in terms of outreach (besides new species discoveries that attract the attention of the press and often quirky names that are associated with these new taxa [e.g. in Crisp et al. 2017], other roles of taxonomy often goes unnoticed – such as breakthroughs linked with evolutionary biology, phylogenetics, and biogeography).

Any potential differences noted across different levels of demography would be of particular interest  ­­–  especially on the responses of the younger generations (i.e. prospective and current students of biology).

Attracting and engaging younger generations in the fields of taxonomy and systematics is crucial to the survival of these disciplines. Engaging the younger demographic would require the use of media channels that they are regularly exposed to e.g. social media channels.

Noteworthy examples that utilises social media for taxonomic outreach include:

Novataxa: A blog dedicated to disseminating taxonomy and science, by featuring newly described species from across the planet in a way that is accessible to the wider public (by including pictures and summary diagnoses that can be understood by a layperson).

www.novataxa.blogspot.com.au

www.facebook.com/novataxa/

In other cases, personal blogs or social media sites (e.g. www.instagram.com/francisnge/) can also serve as an effective medium for taxonomic outreach.

Herbaria across Australia have their own dedicated social media sites on Facebook, and indeed one also exists for the Australian Systematic Botanical Society. Perhaps a site specifically dedicated to disseminating taxonomy and systematics should be created for the Australasian region, featuring the immense diversity that we have. A working model could include some of the features noted in Novataxa and In Defense of Plants ­­– a popular American botanical site aimed at engaging biology students (www.indefenseofplants.com; Fig. 1), it’s facebook site has garnered over 29000 likes www.facebook.com/InDefenseOfPlants/

Figure 1. Attracting a wider audience to what taxonomy and systematics entails – the study of the diversity of life.

A more active engagement from the public could aslo be achieved through these social media sites, for example the Kwongan foundation (www.facebook.com/kwonganfoundation/), a community site created for the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity with input from people across all regions, including those outside of Australia. Active participation from the community is maintained through engagement with other relevant groups that are present on social media e.g.

The Wildflower Society of Western Australia (currently with over 7000 online members; www.facebook.com/groups/129636970391772/)

and the Australian Native Plant Enthusiasts forum (currently with over 9000 online members; www.facebook.com/groups/675253642559682/)

Of course, engaging through the use of social media is only one way in getting our message across, and there are numerous ways of doing so, including increasingly novel ways that evolve with the development of increasingly sophisticated technologies (e.g. apps for plant identification). Nevertheless, it is a useful medium for which we can disseminate information through to a wider audience.

Finally, additional subsequent outreach strategies can be drafted, developed, and implemented following surveys conducted to the relevant stakeholders and consultation with the wider community.

Contributed to the Taxonomy 2028 Challenge by Francis Nge, University of Adelaide and State herbarium of South Australia

References:

Crisp, M.D., Cayzer, L., Chandler, G.T. & Cook, L.G. (2017). A monograph of Daviesia (Mirbelieae, Faboideae, Fabaceae). Phytotaxa 300(1): 1–308.

Garnett, S.T. & Christidis, L. (2017). Comment. Taxonomy anarchy hampers conservation. Nature 546 Issue 7656 (1st June 2017 ): 25–27.

 

Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: a taxonomic emergency for vanishing coral reef fauna

The world’s coral reefs are facing imminent degradation from a variety of pressures. Current research suggests we have lost half of the world’s coral reefs in the last 30 years, and that reefs will disappear completely in the next 20-30 years. Despite this, the biodiversity of coral reefs is globally estimated to be represented by around 950,000 (±40%) multicellular species and only 10% of them have been described (Fisher et al. 2015). 

By 2028 we could double the number of described coral reef taxa.

This vision will result in a more comprehensive inventory for a fauna that we do not have the luxury of working steadily on for the next few decades. This is of great importance for a myriad of reasons, not least among which, coral reef organisms have contributed many new drugs that might preserve or improve human well-being.

This type of taxonomic emergency is something that scientists should come together to co-operate and speed up outcomes, before its too late.


[To be honest, I have no idea if this is achievable or not. It would require the description of 95,000 species in 10 years. Seems big. But achievable if big investment also occurs. And morally speaking, I think we should try!].


Taxonomy 2028 Challenge: The Australian National Biodiversity Collection

Australia currently has around 100 public biodiversity collections (based on the ALA's Collectory pages), with a combined holding of >50 million specimens covering all organismic groups, and an estimated value of >$5 billion. In aggregate, the collection comprises a megascience infrastructure for biodiversity research in Australia, our region and the world, similar in scale and value to other megascience initiatives such as the Square Kilometre Array or the Large Hadron Collider.

However, the collection is jurisdictionally very scattered. In general, each state and territory has a large or relatively large herbarium and museum collection, under a variety of jurisdictional and reporting arrangements (e.g. from semi-autonomy under an independent Board to embedded in botanic gardens or various government departments). Some universities have collections, ranging from small teaching collections to substantial holdings. There is also a long tail of smaller, special-purpose collections in universities and various government departments. 

This jurisdictional scatter has arisen for obvious historical reasons: the establishment of the major herbaria and museums was mandated or facilitated under state and territory legislation; the CSIRO collections were established under its research mandate; and the smaller collections were established by universities and government departments for specific purposes not adequately covered by the major institutions.

Importantly, funding decisions that affect our collections are made by a very wide variety of budgeting agencies (from local to state or territory to national), with very little national coordination or strategy that can buffer a given collection from the exigencies of its local funding pressures.

Further, the wide scatter of collections means that few "owners" of collections see their collection as part of a megascience infrastructure, and nor does the community as a whole.

So, here's my vision:

By 2028, all our biodiversity collections will be integrated to form the Australian National Biodiversity Collection

The main goal of the ANBC will be to change the way governments, industry and the community view our individual collections - from seeing them in isolation to seeing them as part of something much greater. For obvious reasons, each individual institution will remain under local jurisdictional control and management. However, we will market our collections as e.g. "The xxxx collection, part of the Australian National Biodiversity Collection". 

We will establish an arrangement under the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) whereby the importance of each collection as part of the whole is acknowledged, including if possible negotiated agreements on minimal required baseline funding for each collection. 

We will also establish a strategic governance structure for the ANBC as a whole, to ensure strategic planning for the aggregate as well as individual collections, rather than for individual collections alone, and to increase recognition of the strategic value of each collection and of the ANBC in aggregate, in order to increase profile and funding.