Taxonomy, the science of identifying, describing and classifying life forms, is currently experiencing a technological revolution. As a result, the goal of collecting data on the Earth’s entire biological diversity is becoming achievable. At the same time, the importance of taxonomy is growing in many fields, such as medicine, the food industry, and agriculture. With a view to making optimal use of the new opportunities available to taxonomy, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina recommends, in its statement entitled “Challenges and Opportunities of Integrative Taxonomy for Research and Society,” promoting efforts to describe all the species of Central Europe. The statement also calls for investments in taxonomic research and teaching.
The vast majority of the Earth’s species are still unknown to us. New species are not only being discovered in rainforests and deep down in the ocean, but even right here on our doorstep, in Central Europe. In its statement “Challenges and Opportunities of Integrative Taxonomy for Research and Society,” the Leopoldina recommends setting up a research project to describe all the species in Central Europe. The authors stress that the findings of the taxonomic research should be made easily available. For example, the exact classification of microorganisms used in food production contributes to greater food security, and in future it will be possible to more accurately classify soil microbes that are important for agricultural yields.
“High throughput processes for analysing genetic information, proteins and metabolic products — so-called ‘omics’ methods — are now allowing us to conduct fast, highly accurate taxonomic analyses,” said Prof. Jörg Hacker, President of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. “We need to improve the way we harness these new possibilities for the life sciences and industry.”
“Taxonomic research in Germany has an excellent reputation worldwide. If we are to continue to pursue cutting-edge research in this important area, it must become a priority at the most capable research institutions, networking and internationalisation must be increased, and the training of young scientists in taxonomy must be improved,” said Prof. Rudolf Amann of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, who is spokesman of the working group.
Germany is currently considered one of the leading locations for taxonomic research. To ensure that the country can continue to produce excellent findings in taxonomy, the Leopoldina recommends making taxonomy a focus of the work at selected research locations, improving training for young taxonomists, and creating national and international networks in the field. It also calls for the establishment of a centralised infrastructure for digitising and storing taxonomic data, and recommends digitising research collections at museums and research institutes.
The English version of the statement by the German National Academy of Science Leopoldina is available at www.leopoldina.org/en/taxonomy