Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

What’s in a name?

The jewel beetle species Stigmodera gratiosa Chevrolat, 1843. Source: WA Museum. Photo: Amber Beavis.

Radio National, What’s in a name? 15 August 2015

Juliet leans over the balcony and ponders the information implicit in the genus and species labels of binomial nomenclature.

She sighs as the evolutionary history of each and every species in existence on the planet earth unfurls into a complex, tree-like, structure in her mind.

Ok, well, this is a dramatisation, but there is no escaping the fact that the practice of taxonomy attempts to classify each animal in relation to each other, and that implicit within taxonomic classification is the evolutionary history of that species.

But more than that, taxonomy provides scientists of all types with a common language of identification so that biodiversity of this planet’s past and present can be mapped in its entirety.

There is no undergraduate degree in taxonomy in Australian universities, despite the fact that some 75% of our biodiversity remains unidentified and that taxonomy cannot be taught adequately from a text book.

Rather, taxonomy must be learnt from someone who is well steeped in the traditions and idiosyncrasies of each subdivision of research such as plants, fungi, or invertebrates.

In fact, with the increasingly difficult funding environment for cultural institutions such as Museums, which serve as taxonomic strongholds, there is a danger that essential disciplinary knowledge will be lost in the near future.

Four taxonomists, including Guest Presenter Dr Amber Beavis, in this episode of Off Tracktalk about how this under-funded and out-of-favour science underpins all the research across the life-sciences and in fact, is the foundation for our whole understanding of life on this planet.

During Dr Amber Beavis’  tenure as an ABC RN-UNSW Top 5 Under 40 Scientist in Residence she was a Research Scientist at the Western Australian Museum. Since completing her residency, Dr Beavis has commenced a new position as Senior Researcher at the Regional Australia Institute. She is continuing her affiliation with the WAM.



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