30th July 2014: Beyond the Gardens, The Future of Taxonomy

Published on 30th July 2014

Two Fellows of the Linnean Society based at Kew; Bill Baker and Paul Wilkin have been involved in the making of a wonderful short film Beyond the Gardens: The Future of Taxonomy. They have produced the following text to accompany the film...

Taxonomy – the science of classifying organisms – is essential for understanding life on Earth. But as our knowledge of the living world continues to grow, how do we ensure that taxonomic information reaches those who need it? This film tells the story of taxonomy from 18th century inspiration, through the Victorian age of discovery, to 21st century challenges and asks “what is the future of taxonomy?”

Perhaps as many 400,000 flowering plant species exist on planet Earth, 40 times more than estimated by Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy. Taxonomy is essential for all communication about species, for exploring their properties and managing them for the future. But this information is often locked up in libraries and the minds of experts, out of reach of those who need it. Taxonomy must evolve to keep up with the needs of society.

Kew is leading international efforts to revolutionise taxonomy using the web and to make rich information about all plants of the world available online. With a major grant from the Natural Environment Research CouncilKew, the Natural History Museum, London and the University of Oxford, have built eMonocot, an internet resource for plants of unprecedented scale covering all 70,000 species of the monocotyledons. Monocots include grasses, orchids and palms, and provide sustenance to people worldwide, for example through cereals such as wheat, rice and corn. eMonocot provides a blueprint for the future of taxonomy, forging collaboration among taxonomists and unlocking biodiversity data for all.

Bill Baker FLS and Paul Wilkin FLS