From Beyonce to Lady Gaga- The Importance of Insect Taxonomy

Scaptia Beyonceae, named after the singer Beyonce © Erick via Wikimedia Commons (License CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Scaptia Beyonceae, named after the singer Beyonce by Bryan Lessard © Erick via Wikimedia Commons (License CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Taxonomy is the system used to categorise species by defining groups of organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups. To date, around 1 million insect species have been described, however it is thought that this only represents about 10% of the insect species living on Earth, meaning new species are being discovered on a daily basis.

Taxonomy has been described as one of the oldest professions in the world, since early humans would have named the things around them so that they knew, for example, what plants were safe to eat or what fungi were poisonous. In the 18th century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus created the binomial system of nomenclature that is still used today. The start date for modern entomological taxonomy is based on Linnaeus’ tenth edition of his work Systema Naturae (1758). Linnaeus’ hierarchical system means that species can be identified from Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family and Genus right down to Species.

Often an insect name refers to an attribute that characterises them, for example Oryctes rhinoceros, the rhinoceros beetle, is a huge Scarab beetle with a horn like a rhinoceros, and Titanus giganteus is one of the largest beetles in the world. Many well respected entomologists have species named after them as an honor,  for example Max Barclay, the Curator and Collections Manager of Coleoptera and True Bugs at the Natural History Museum in London has numerous beetle species named after him, including Cartodere barclayiContinue reading

CABI publishes third working paper

CABI’s own, Matthew Cock, covers strategic entry points for funding taxonomic support to agriculture in developing countries in the third working paper published by CABI.

The importance of taxonomy to agriculture is discussed, with emphasis on how to address the need for taxonomic support in developing countries.

One of the subjects explored by this paper is the existing mechanisms that provide support to agriculture, of which BioNET is one. BioNET is an international initiative dedicated to promoting the science and use of taxonomy, especially in the economically poorer countries of the world. The network is made up of 10 government-endorsed regional networks, the Locally Owned and Operated Partnerships (LOOPs), encompassing institutions and 3000 individuals in over 100 countries, and a Secretariat in the UK, which we, at CABI, host.

Matthew examines the role that the Plantwise initiative has to play in providing support to agriculture. Early detection followed by early identification of new pests is crucial in our fight to save crops, protect livelihoods and improve food security. Plantwise will provide a global pest and disease warning system and it is recognized that it will require taxonomic support at various junctures. Discussions between Plantwise and BioNET are underway to discuss how BioNET could contribute to providing this support.

Link to working paper 1.

Link to working paper 2.