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Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 183–205 | Cite as

Systematics, biological knowledge and environmental conservation

  • F. P. D. Cotterill
Papers

Abstract

Systematics and taxonomy are essential: they respectively elucidate life's history, and organize and verify biological knowledge. This knowledge is built of interrelated concepts which are ultimately accounted for by biological specimens. Such knowledge is essential to decide how much and what biodiversity survives human onslaughts. The preservation of specimens in natural history collections is the essential part of the process which builds and maintains biological knowledge. These collections and the human expertise essential to interpret specimens are the taxonomic resources which maintain accurate and verifiable concepts of biological entities. Present and future knowledge of the complexities and diversity of the biosphere depends on the integrity of taxonomic resources, vet widespread ignorance and disregard for their fundamental value has created a global crisis. Preservation of specimens in natural history collections is chronically neglected and support to study and manage collections is very insufficient. The knowledge held by experienced taxonomists is not being passed on to younger recruits. Neglect of collections has destroyed countless specimens and threatens millions more. These threats to taxonomic resources not only impinge on systematics but all biology: this tragedy jeopardizes the integrity of biological knowledge. The consequences for environmental conservation and therefore humanity are also of dire severity and the biodiversity crisis adds unprecedented weight to the barely recognized crisis in taxonomy and systematics.

Keywords

biological collections conservation biodiversity information phylogenetic systematics taxonomy 

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© Chapman & Hall 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. P. D. Cotterill
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.SecretariatBiodiversity Foundation for AfricaBulawayoZimbabwe
  2. 2.Natural History Museum of ZimbabweBulawayoZimbabwe

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