At the core of the Museum's scientific work lies taxonomy: the description, classification and naming of species. This science is the foundation for all the biological sciences - if we cannot accurately describe the organism, the biological research that we do will not be reliable. Species are essential concepts in describing diversity and exploring evolution - the Museum's collections and research centre on taxonomy, but integrate it with all sorts of other scientific approaches.
Taxonomy is published in the scientific literature in a number of ways - individual species results are published increasingly in short papers, sometimes online. However, there is great value in ambitious works that cover whole groups of organisms - it allows all members of the group to be compared in a systematic way and new ideas and conclusions on diversity and evolution explored.
The final part of Dr Norman Robson’s Hypericum monograph was published in Phytotaxa. This an important monograph of a species-rich flowering plant genus; Hypericum (approximately 480 species) is one of 100 plant genera which together represent 22% of angiosperm (flowering plant) diversity.
A genus is a classification group for a number of individual closely related species. Hypericum is a genus of flowering plant species that is worldwide in distribution and familar as a garden plant in the UK and some species have been used in the past in herbal treatments. (The name St John’s Wort is commonly used for these plants.) A New Zealand species, Hypericum gramineum, is shown below.
The entire work comprises 1,247 pages in 11 parts, the culmination of 27 years of work and more than 50 years of research by Dr Robson on this genus. The editorial in Phytotaxa states that “The size of such genera means that complete monographic treatments to account for species diversity are time-consuming, costly and labour-intensive. Consequently, the species-level taxonomy of most such groups is poorly known [and this] presents a substantial barrier both to the goal of completing the global inventory and to understanding the evolution of the diversity they contain. Hypericum is now a notable exception to this problem”