What is taxonomy?

Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species and organising them into systems of classification.

Who is involved?

The scientists that do taxonomy are called taxonomists. Their work is crucial for all our efforts to conserve biodiversity.

What's in a name?

The names taxonomists give to species don't just tell us what they are called, but also tell us about how they are related to one another. This can help us to identify patterns in nature, and decide how best to protect the individual species that are part of the world's biodiversity.

How many species are there?

Scientists believe there may be as many as 30 million species of plants, animals and micro-organisms living on the Earth today. Every one of them plays a part in the global ecosystem. Taxonomists have only identified and named approximately 1.7 million of them so far.

How does it help conservation?

Taxonomists use their knowledge to help produce lists of names and identification tools in the form of species databases, field guides, collections and reference works. These tools help conservationists understand biodiversity and develop ways to protect it.

What about taxonomy across the globe?

In the UK, we have a relatively limited biodiversity. However, the UK has a long-standing, globally recognised excellence in the field of taxonomy. Many developing countries are home to amazingly rich biodiversity, but they have only very limited local taxonomic support.

What is the Global Taxonomy Initiative?

The Global Taxonomy Initiative of the Convention on Biological Diversity is helping to address the shortage of taxonomists and taxonomic expertise.

Cartoon image of a stegasaurus disappearing through closing door

The first collected specimen of Theobroma cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made, is kept in the Museum.