Many fields of science are important, and many fields of science are appreciated.
The field with the greatest importance : appreciation ratio is taxonomy.
Taxonomy is critical for almost everything we do in biology, but few demonstrate appreciation for the hard work and expertise that is required for useful taxonomy to happen. Let’s change that!
We are deep in a taxonomic crisis. Our own species created the planet’s sixth major extinction event and we are lacking the expertise to understand what we are rapidly losing. Taxonomic work is the foundation for understanding how to save what we can and make plans for the future. Any fix to the taxonomic crisis requires a recognition of the essential nature of the work of taxonomists and systematists, and the value of museum collections and those who use them to explain our world. We must show taxonomists how much they’re worth to us. We need to back this up with the necessary resources, of course, but we all need to be showing them a lotta love too.
I’d like to write a bit about the taxonomist that’s made my work possible.
As an ecologist, most of what I do is only possible because because of the unfathomably detailed and dedicated work of one systematist and all-around-great guy, Jack Longino. I don’t even know where to begin with the awesomeness of Jack, and of what he’s done. En route to a bevy of discoveries in evolution and ecology, he’s provided a comprehensive picture of ant biology throughout Costa Rica, as well as Mesoamerica and beyond. Of course there’s always more work to do, and a lot of that is only possible because of the foundation of his natural history and systematic work.
Jack Longino worked on the ants of La Selva Biological Station under the umbrella of the ambitious Alas Project: The Arthropods of La Selva, While heading up (in part) this huge project funded by a series of four NSF grants, he focused on ants. In the process, he made the most comprehensive and easy-to-use guide to identifying ants to species for anywhere in the tropics, perhaps the world. In fact, it is easier for me to train a student to identify an ant in the rainforest of Costa Rica than in my home in California, because the tools that Jack created are just so perfect to get ants to species. And when you get to a species page, you get detailed natural history notes of the biology of the species, including the rare ones. (For great examples, check out his notes on Gnamptogenys banski and one of my favorite critters, the gypsy ant Aphaenogaster araneoides.) In recent years, he’s ported over to the globally comprehensive site Antweb, and expanded his range throughout Mesoamerica and northern South America. Which is much cause for rejoicing among myrmecologists in these areas. And NPR, too.
And, a spectacular part of all this is that he did this while serving on the faculty of The Evergreen State College. I’ve seen him in the field with students on several occasions, and he’s a thoughtful, attentive, realistic and enterprising mentor. (He’s recently moved to the University of Utah.) And whenever I have questions for him, he’s prompt, detailed and doesn’t even seem to mind. I don’t know how to make a taxonomy pun out of this, but he’s 100% class.
So when he went on an expedition sampling ants throughout remote areas of Mesoamerica, he took a bunch of undergraduates. Some of whom made this wonderful animation showing what an ant sampling field expedition looks like:
Acknowledgments: This year’s pun contest by BuzzHootRoar generated some great art and new attention to the importance of taxonomy for ALL of us scientists. I came up with the idea for Taxonomist Appreciation Day on a half-whim last year, but I’m serious about it. It’s an idea whose time has come. And I am so thankful for the people who’ve helped picked up the idea and shared it, including BuzzHootRoar, the NSF Division of Environmental Biology, and Alex Wild, and hopefully many more of you today. (If you’re a twitter person, #loveyourtaxonomist is the not-so-secret handshake.) The Smithsonian Department of Invert Zoology came up with an aptly timed post (beware: contains comic sans). Next year, let’s have a bigger and better Taxonomist Appreciation Day! I’m open to all kinds of ideas, in addition to the great ones of DEBrief.