November 18, 2010

Canadian Taxonomy: Exploring Biodiversity, Creating Opportunity

The Expert Panel on Biodiversity Science

Summary

The diversity of life on earth is an irreplaceable natural heritage. It is being lost in Canada and around the world at a rate unprecedented in human history with massive consequences for the biosphere, the economy, and human well-being. Taxonomy is the science that discovers, distinguishes, classifies, and documents living things. As such, it is the foundation of biodiversity research and essential to understanding the world around us. Canada has a proud history of world class contributions to taxonomic research but today critical gaps exist within the Canadian system.

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The Question

What are the state and trends of biodiversity science in Canada? Are we equipped to understand the challenges of our biodiversity resources?

Key Findings

The Minister of Canadian Heritage on behalf of the Canadian Museum of Nature asked the CCA to assemble an Expert Panel to conduct an independent assessment of: the state and trends of biodiversity science in Canada. The charge had a specific focus on taxonomy.

Canadian Taxonomy: Exploring Biodiversity, Creating Opportunity explores the state of Canadian taxonomy in three areas: taxonomic expertise, the state of biodiversity collections, and Canada’s strength in data sharing. After examining the evidence in each of these areas the Expert Panel concluded that Canada is not yet equipped to fully understand the challenges of its biodiversity resources.

Taxonomic Expertise: Canada continues to have world class researchers and strong student interest in taxonomy; but students are trained in an increasingly small number of labs, leading to a loss of breadth in taxonomic expertise. Job openings in taxonomy have virtually ceased and research funding is stagnant. Canada’s international contribution to new species descriptions has fallen from 6th in the 1980s to 14th in the 2000s.

Biodiversity Collections: There are over 50 million specimens in Canadian collections, worth a conservative estimated value of over a quarter of a billion dollars. Conditions under which specimens are stored vary considerably. Many collections are stored in aging facilities and there is little room for growth. Collections are managed under an array of different organizational schemes, with no national collections strategy or standards.

Data Sharing: Canada has impressive specimen collections and a strong digital infrastructure. However, most of the information about Canadian biodiversity is trapped in cabinets rather than accessible on the internet. Canada compares poorly internationally in digitization and sharing of data on online databases; approximately 80% of Canada’s online biodiversity information is being held outside of Canada.

Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on Biodiversity Science

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