Systematic biology is at the heart of our understanding
of the natural world.
In this time of climate change, understanding the
connection between the natural world and human well-beingunderstanding
the value and dynamic of "ecosystem services"has
a vital importance more widely recognised than ever before. "Ecosystem
services" is a concept which has developed an importance
in recent years to the point where it now sets the context of
the current debate on environment sustainability. Simply defined,
ecosystem services are "the benefits we derive from natural
This is our third inquiry into systematics and taxonomy.
We reported in 1992, under the chairmanship of Lord Dainton, with
a follow-up inquiry in 2001-02 under the chairmanship of Baroness
Walmsley. We chose to embark on this inquiry now because of the
environmental imperatives increasingly manifest in our daily lives.
We have asked two questions in particular: whether systematic
biology in the UK is in a fit state to generate the essential
taxonomic information required to understand ecosystem services
and whether the UK has the skills available to understand and
predict the impact of climate change on biodiversity.
We have concluded that the state of systematics and
taxonomy in the UK, both in terms of the professional taxonomic
community and volunteers, is unsatisfactoryin some areas,
such as mycology, to the point of crisisand that more needs
to be done to ensure the future health of the discipline. We propose,
for example, that there should be more effective and regular dialogue
between the users and producers of taxonomy on the priorities
for developing UK systematic biology, and we emphasise the importance
of stimulating recruitment and also of taking steps to fire the
imagination of school children by creative incorporation of environmental
and biodiversity issues into school curricula.
The study of systematic biology, in common with other
areas of science, has been transformed by technological innovation.
Of particular importance are the development of molecular taxonomy
and the potential of web-based taxonomy. We have no doubt that
the benefits to be reaped from technological innovation are enormous.
We are aware however that they need to be harnessed with discrimination
and we call on the Research Councils and the taxonomic institutions
to respond to this challenge.
Although we received clear evidence from the taxonomic
community of a widespread concern about the state of the discipline,
that concern appears to be largely unheard by the Government and
by the Research Councils. We find this worrying. We believe that
part of the problem is the fragmentation within Government of
responsibility for systematic biology. We therefore recommend
that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills be
designated as the lead department and that that department should
exercise the leadership without which we fear that the downward
slide of UK taxonomy is set to continue.