Box 8: Training in taxonomy has declined dramatically over: Training in taxonomy has declined dramatically over: Training in taxonomy has declined dramatically over the last several decades, so that the appropriate scientists may not be available to describe the next round of unique species in a newly discovered marine habitat.


All but a few of the taxonomists who described the hydrothermal vent fauna, beginning in 1979, were over 40 years old at the time they published. In the mid-1990s, the same taxonomists—those who have not retired—continue to describe organisms from hydrothermal vents. These individuals were specifically chosen to describe the vent fauna because of their exceptional taxonomic expertise. Those who are still working continue to contribute substantially to the taxonomy and systematics of the group of animals in which they specialize, and some are the only remaining experts on their particular group of organisms. In fact, for most taxonomic groups, there has been little or no training of younger workers in the identification and description of species.

When the next major novel ocean ecosystem is discovered, who will describe the animals, plants and microbes associated with it?


Key References: Jones (1985); Tunnicliffe (1991).

ecologists. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a ''graying" of taxonomists is occurring (e.g., Box 8). Taxonomists specializing in taxa of ecological importance have retired or died and there has been little or no training of younger scientists in the field; consequently, ecologists are being left on their own to deal with the seemingly bewildering array of species occupying most ecosystems. Unfortunately, most ecologists do not have the training to deal adequately with this task. Few ecologists today have had any formal training in taxonomic methods and principles, or in the detailed morphology of the group(s) that they study, and even fewer are aware of the ecological importance of such basic knowledge.

There are many examples of ecological studies that have been compromised by taxonomic mistakes (some examples are described in Lee et al., 1978; Knowlton, 1993; Knowlton and Jackson, 1994). Yet in contrast to a strong movement toward requiring, for example, rigorous statistical designs and analyses in ecological studies (with some number of submitted manuscripts being rejected by editors on the basis of inadequate statistical treatment), there are currently no rewards or penalties for good or bad taxonomic work on the part of ecologists and biological oceanographers, nor clear mechanisms by which to assess the quality of such work. Nevertheless, taxonomic competence is just as important for ecology as are rigorous statistics.

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