Taxonomy is the discovering, naming, describing, and classification of all living organisms and fossils.
Taxonomists collect plants, animals, fungi or micro-organisms, study them, and group them according to patterns of variation. They study these organisms in nature, laboratories, and in museums and herbaria where there are research collections. Several million species of animals and over 325,000 species of plants are presently known. It is estimated that between a few million and 30 million species await discovery. Many of them are in the sea, and marine taxonomy is a particularly scarce skill.
Having the correct name for a plant or animal is essential for accessing information about the species, for using it in any way, for conserving it or for controlling it if it’s a problem species. Taxonomy is often referred to as a fundamental science because it is so important to all other fields of biology.
With a shortage of taxonomists around the world, the fields of biodiversity, evolution and conservation hang in the balance. There is a false impression that taxonomy is old-fashioned, like stamp-collecting, but the field has changed drastically recently and DNA analysis and computer programming are being used to assist in identifying species and for making information accessible on the internet.
Taxonomists spend time ‘in the field’, collecting specimens, or in a museum or herbarium studying preserved specimens. They then assess the material in the laboratory or an office. Microscopes, digital cameras and imaging systems, computers and databases and book resources are used for research. An important part of the research is writing up the results for publication in books or scientific journals.