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‘Taxonomy, Natural History and the Digital World’

Traditional skills of identification, species description and natural history are declining, younger taxonomists are enthused more by the power of molecular systematics for resolving phylogenetic patterns.

The Internet provides an increasingly powerful medium for connecting taxonomists and the information they produce with a very wide audience. Numerous projects and initiatives have developed over recent years and the international e-Biosphere conference, held in London in June 2009, has shown that the field of Biodiversity Informatics has come of age. Our capacity to digitise natural history specimens and other taxonomic information and to distribute the resultant products online has great potential and some pitfalls.

Malcolm will explore and illustrate selected developments in this field and their implication for taxonomists and for the future of taxonomy. Traditional skills of identification, species description and natural history are declining as the current cohort of practitioners’ age (at least in the developed world): younger taxonomists are enthused more by the power of molecular systematics for resolving phylogenetic pattern. But many are being attracted by the potential and the methods for democratising taxonomic information through online distribution. A further consideration is that taxonomic data can now be made available not only by professional taxonomists, but by anyone moderately Web-literate. Wider involvement is beneficial, although the issue of data quality arises. This democratisation means that taxonomists will lose some control of what was a somewhat closed domain often with impenetrable jargon. Instead of fighting the inevitable, taxonomists should perceive themselves more as information synthesisers and brokers. While such a change in perception may blur the edges of taxonomy, it should attract a wider community to understand, enjoy and help conserve the natural world.

Dr Malcolm Scoble is an entomologist with research interests in the taxonomy of the Lepidoptera and in Web-based taxonomy. In the last decade he and his colleagues have specialised in the taxonomy of Geometridae, the moths with ‘looper’ caterpillars, and in using this family as a model group to assess patterns of species description and regional richness. Another area of interest is in developing new approaches to improve access to information in natural history collections. He has held appointments at the Transvaal Museum (Pretoria, South Africa), Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the Natural History Museum, London, where he is currently Keeper (Head) of the Entomology Department. He received a PhD from Rhodes University and a DSc from the University of London. He is currently Zoological Secretary of the Linnean Society


Dr Malcolm J. Scoble | talks


Date and Time:

13 November 2009 at 6:30 pm


2 hours



Birkbeck, University of London
43 Gordon Square
020 7679 1069
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Organised by:

Ecology and Conservation Studies Society
See other talks organised by Ecology and Conservation Studies Society...




Available from:

E-mail: environmentevents@FLL.bbk.ac.uk for booking and venue details. (tel: 020 7631 6473)

Additional Information:

Booking essential. Doors open at 6.00pm
This is one of six lectures on consecutive Friday evenings from 16 October to 20 November inclusive, on the subject of 'What's in a Name? - Taxonomy and Biodiversity' Saving our Experts from Extinction
Full details of all speakers and their lectures are available at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/environment/news/lectures

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