Alpha e-taxonomy: responses from the systematics community to the biodiversity crisis
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- Mayo, S.J., Allkin, R., Baker, W. et al. Kew Bull (2008) 63: 1. doi:10.1007/s12225-008-9014-1
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The crisis facing the conservation of biodiversity is reflected in a parallel crisis in alpha taxonomy. On one hand, there is an acute need from government and non-government organisations for large-scale and relatively stable species inventories on which to build major biodiversity information systems. On the other, molecular information will have an increasingly important impact on the evidential basis for delimiting species and is likely to result in greater scientific debate and controversy on their circumscription. This paper argues that alpha-taxonomy built on the Internet (alpha e-taxonomy) can provide a key component of the solution. Two main themes are considered: (1) the potential of e-taxonomic revisions for engaging both the specialist taxonomic community and a wider public in gathering taxonomic knowledge and deepening understanding of it, and (2) why alpha-species will continue to play an essential role in the conventional definition of species and what kinds of methodological development this implies for descriptive species taxonomy. The challenges and requirements for sustaining e-taxonomic revisions in the long-term are discussed, with particular reference to models being developed by five initiatives with botanical exemplar websites: CATE (Creating a Taxonomic E-Science), Solanaceae Source, GrassBase and EDIT (European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy) exemplar groups and scratchpads. These projects give a clear indication of the crucially important role of the national and regional taxonomic organisations and their networks in providing both leadership and a fruitful and beneficial human and technical environment for taxonomists, both amateur and professional, to contribute their expertise towards a collective global enterprise.