Criteria for prioritisation of invertebrate taxonomy

From A/Prof. Michael Braby, Visiting Scientist, Australian National Insect Collection, based on recommendations from the paper Biosystematics and conservation biology: critical scientific disciplines for the management of insect biological diversity. Austral Entomology 55:1-17 (see

Given finite resources for biosystematics, we argue that at least two criteria be considered for selection of invertebrate groups for prioritisation for taxonomic focus and their application in conservation biology: (1) the taxon is reasonably well known taxonomically (i.e. total inventory is estimated to be 90% complete, and/or morphospecies have been circumscribed through the availability of parataxonomists and well-curated reference collections); and (2) the taxon is known to be informative as bioindicators. 

Here are our main visions for taxonomy from a stakeholders perspective (biodiversity conservation):

  1.  Increased investment in taxonomic research capacity (of prioritised taxa) to systematically catalogue known species and describe new species, including university training and resources for museum collections, curation, digitisation of material (including type specimens), DNA sequencing and development of taxonomic databases on the Internet.
  2. Greater attention towards molecular genetic methods, such as DNA barcode technology and application of genomic data through next-generation sequencing together with population genetic studies of species will assist with rapid identification of field samples, especially where morphospecies approach is used for some prioritised taxa, as well as recognition of conservation units within species. This technology should not be used at the expense of traditional taxonomy, but rather complement it.
  3. Complete reconstruction of the evolutionary history or tree of life, which will form the framework for the development of reliable guidelines and conceptual basis as to how phylogenetic diversity can be incorporated into biodiversity conservation planning compared with traditional measures, such as species richness, endemism and threatened species.
  4. Development of national databases to document the spatial distribution of species, and predictive spatial modelling of biodiversity. The ALA and related activities, such as the Australian Natural Heritage Assessment Tool, are excellent government-funded initiatives in the field of bioinformatics and are currently the best platforms on which to build at the national level.
  5. Increased capacity-building through greater participation of citizen science programmes in collecting spatial and temporal data and indices of relative abundance of species. These data can then be used in conjunction with databased vouchered specimens for evaluation of geographical range, phenology and conservation status of threatened species. Networks consisting of government agencies, NGOs, scientists, community groups, natural history societies and volunteers are likely to be the future for the conservation management and monitoring of insect biodiversity in Australia.

4 responses
These five recommendations are well-suited to thorough study and conservation of "90% complete" taxa, like the Lepidoptera in Mike's article. They fail dismally to help with all the other groups, which make up most of the Australian biota. Having used up "finite resources" on well-known groups, there won't be anything left in the taxonomy pot for the enormous amount of field work needed to collect and map the "50% and less complete" taxa, let alone for the taxonomic and systematic work needed to document and classify them. With recommendations like these, those poorly known taxa will never get to "90% complete". I'm impressed, too, with "This technology should not be used at the expense of traditional taxonomy, but rather complement it." I'd like to see that complementing done in cash: for every dollar spent on Sanger or nextgen sequencing and associated labour and materials costs, spend one dollar on field work by competent collectors and one dollar on museum or herbarium curation. - Bob Mesibov
I think that there may be an error on this page. When I view it, it says that this article is written by me, Sally Fryar. It's not.
Thanks Sally - you're correct - I put this blog up, and have notified Posthaven of a bug that it was incorrectly ascribed to you (you're the most recent addition to the Contributors list). They're trying to track down the bug, after which we'll fix
Thanks Kevin.