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.