Become a taxonomist today!
At 630 AM, I excitedly announced that it was taxonomist appreciation day today. My family looked at me with a touch of curiosity, but mostly bewilderment. Huh? These looks caused me to launch into a rant about the importance of taxonomy (over coffee, cereal, spilled milk, and amongst the panic of lunch preparation in our tiny kitchen- perhaps a little much for my bleary-eyed teenage son....)
Taxonomists are the most amazing scientists! They describe species and give them names! They increase our knowledge about biodiversity! WE NEED taxonomists as we continue to face a biodiversity crisis! (and on and on...)
(um, I realize that I'm mostly preaching to the choir with this blog, and especially regarding the need to increase research focus on the biodiversity of insects and spiders)
Today I want to suggest something a little bit different, and highlight an amazing project out of North Carolina State University's Insect Museum as a way to increase enthusiasm about taxonomy and what it might mean to be a taxonomist. This project's goal is to open up a research-based insect collection to the world through the use of "gigapan" images of each drawer within the collection ("gigapan" refers to high resolution panoramic images of amazing things and places, thus allowing you to zoom in and enjoy everything from cityscapes to forests in Costa Rica). With the Insect Museum's gigapans, You can virtually visit thousands of specimens, zoom in on a specimen, zoom in on a label. You can see where these insects were collected, when, and can appreciate their names, shapes and sizes. Their ENTIRE collection is available for your to view - it's an amazing way to enter an insect collection from anywhere in the world. This entire project was published by Matt Bertone and colleagues, a couple of years ago (by the way, I do hope other collections follow NCState's example)
Thanks to these efforts, I offer a challenge: become a taxonomist today! As you pull out your lunch (or as you eat your dinner...), scan a few of these images and gain an appreciate about what taxonomists are faced with. Select one drawer and spend a few minutes thinking about similarities and differences among the species - where is there variation? Why does this variation exist? Were all the specimens collected in a similar habitat, or geographic region? Why or why not? If you have limited knowledge about a particular family of beetles, for example, as you view and appreciate the collection, your knowledge base will increase, and you will become a better taxonomist relative to when you started munching on your sandwich. To me, this is an ideal way to really recognize taxonomist appreciation day. And heck, maybe this will even inspire some people to take an insect taxonomy course, or visit their local entomology museum, and get drawn into this fascinating and critically important field of study.
As an footnote, I have pretty serious envy of taxonomists. In part this comes from my academic training - when I was a senior undergraduate, I was introduced to the field of entomology through one of the best taxonomists, Dr. Steve Marshall, at the University of Guelph. However, by that time I was already on the road to becoming an ecologist, and thus learned the importance of taxonomy too late to enter that field of study. Ever since then, I've been in awe of taxonomy and taxonomists. On a related note, this may be why I'm fascinated by natural history, since natural history and taxonomy are closely linked.
M. Bertone et al. (2012). Results and insights from the NCSU Insect Museum GigaPan project. ZooKeys