Taxonomy is important since it helps us categorise organisms in order for us to more easily communicate biological information. A new research plan for plant taxonomy is now available to assist in categorising all known South African plant species.

Dr Janine Victor from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and a team of taxonomists have recently led the development of the Research Plan for Plant Taxonomy 2020 – 2030 as part of SANBI’s Biodiversity Series 30. According to Victor (2021), taxonomic research involves the discovery, description and naming of taxa, and the investigation of plant characteristics that leads to understanding evolutionary relationships between them.

In a comprehensible and easy-to-follow format, the 32 page Research Plan for Plant Taxonomy 2020 – 2030 explores and describes the main outputs of plant taxonomy and the resources available for it at SANBI. The research plan culminates in a brief discussion addressing the importance of achieving an improved classification system, lightly reflects on the value of SANBI’s online platforms in hosting several taxonomic priorities and concludes with the uncomfortable reality regarding the ongoing decline of skilled taxonomists in South Africa.

The essence of the Research Plan for Plant Taxonomy 2020 – 2030 is illuminated at the seven strategic objectives accompanied by its programmes of activity. Here, not only are the challenges for plant taxonomy acknowledged, but also the existing conditions which accompany each of the seven strategic objectives over the next ten years.

This involves documenting South Africa’s flora and e- Flora, improving data sets and their quality, improving information provided by national herbaria, creating identity guides, maintaining checklists and making them accessible to the public.

Taxonomic research is the foundation of several fields of biodiversity science. “This research plan is a valuable resource to all plant taxonomists who are interested in doing taxonomic research on the South African flora, including university lecturers, staff at herbaria, and students looking for ideas and justification for research projects. It is also a good way to motivate for funding for taxonomic research” says Dr Victor.  She emphasises that the research plan “Is realistically achievable if we do not continue to lose taxonomic capacity (through retirements or other reasons like resignation) without being able to replace them.”

There is a valuable contribution citizen scientists groups can make, such as the Custodian of Rare and Endangered Wildlife (CREW), who play a very important role by partnering with taxonomists to collect information on plants being researched by scientists. Scientists also assist CREW with identifications and providing data.

Both contribute towards SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme and other conservation role players, providing data to enable conservation status to be assessed and management plans to be put in place.

The steps leading to the finalisation of this research plan has been influenced by the development of the SANBI Research Strategy and a series of workshops wherein plant taxonomists at SANBI were provided with the opportunity to make their contribution into the research plan.

The Research Plan for Plant Taxonomy 2020 – 2030 is available here

The Research Plan for Plant Taxonomy 2020 – 2030 is obtainable from the SANBI Bookshop: Private Bag X101, Pretoria, 0001 South Africa

Tel.: +27 12 843 5000
E-mail: sanbibookshop@sanbi.org.za

Author:
Shahieda Davids

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