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:
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?
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
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).
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
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.