Undervaluation of systematic biology

Other Names:
Lack of emphasis on scientific taxonomy
Anonymous species
Unnamed living organisms

In recent years there has been a significant reduction in the teaching of systematics in schools and universities. The decline in resources for a continued systematic activity in many, if not most, countries of the world, has been gradual but unrelieved. Universities and government bodies tend to reduce positions for taxonomists/systematists in teaching and research when budget cuts are made. Funding for research projects and congresses is diminishing considerably. In response, students do not see systematics as a secure and exciting professional discipline. The resulting decline in systematic activity and expertise is harming areas of applied science which rely on taxonomic research, such as work on disease vectors, biological conservation or agricultural pest control. The fields of biotechnology and petro-geology also require strong systematic support. The limited pool of trained systematists may be attracted to such commercially-profitable fields rather than work in the less well-funded areas supporting public health or wildlife conservation.


Systematics is the science involving the naming and classification of living organisms, past or present, and understanding how they have evolved through time and how they function ecologically, biochemically and physiologically. The classification aspect of systematics, called taxonomy, is the basal reference system of biology. It provides an infrastructure which integrates research in ecology, functional morphology, behaviour, genetics and molecular biology, much of which has agricultural, industrial and medical importance. Also, at a fundamental level, systematics explores and reveals the processes of evolution and of ecological and functional interactions. This involves the observation, description and interpretation of patterns of natural variation, and also uses experimental and laboratory studies. In its present form, systematic biology (including palaeontology) has proceeded as a continuously building body of scientific knowledge for over two centuries and has underpinned the diversification of the modern biological sciences.


Available systematists are unable to satisfy the demand for their services. The situation is clearly critical when it is considered that only 1.5 million of the estimated 30 million species alive today have been described.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
22.05.2019 – 21:19 CEST