Cyber-enabled , or cybertaxonomy, rep­resents a fusion of cyberinfrastructure and the goals of descriptive biological taxonomy. Taxonomy is the science of biological classification; its goal is to compare in order to place them into groups based on defining characteristics. Cyberinfrastructure is a technological solution to obstacles that have slowed progress in descriptive taxonomy and is comprised of a foundation that provides speed and capacity for data analysis, stor­age, and communication, plus domain-specific hardware and software that meet the specific needs of taxonomy. Examples of domain-specific cyberin­frastructure include robotics, imaging technologies, instrumentation, and data acquisition, searching, and interpretation systems. Cybertaxonomy repre­sents the future practice of taxonomy and promises to accelerate the processes of descriptive taxonomy without sacrifice of theoretical and procedural excellence. Virtually every aspect of descriptive tax­onomy from collection, preparation, and curation of specimens to electronic publication of revisions and monographs can be improved or transformed through cybertaxonomy.

Most of the impediments to rapid advances in taxonomy have to do with issues of access: access to specimens, historic literature, existing data, and colleagues around the world. Cybertaxonomy has the potential to open access to research resources required by practicing taxonomists as well as opening their research findings to a wide range of user communities. The traditionally high stan­dards of taxonomic research are evident in taxo­nomic revisions or monographs, comprehensive comparative studies of all previously described species with the addition of all newly discovered species. Due to such comprehensive studies of thousands of specimens, at most only a few mono­graphs are completed per century for any given taxon. Consequently, a perception exists that descriptive taxonomy is inherently slow and inef­ficient. This is not so. Such comparative studies are in fact highly efficient means for testing large numbers of hypotheses about species simultane­ously. The vision of cybertaxonomy is to compress this time of hypothesis testing by making mono­graphs living, dynamic electronic entities that are continually updated as new specimens and charac­ters are found. Another aspect of cybertaxonomy involves teamwork, using cyberinfrastructure to enable colleagues in several countries to collabo­rate by examining specimens together and con­sulting in real time, thereby accelerating the discovery and testing of species. Thus cyber-en­abled knowledge communities would arise that are focused on particular taxa and that collabora­tively manage and update all information associ­ated with species of a given taxon.

Rudimentary examples of cybertaxonomy exist, including virtual libraries and herbaria, online monographs, remotely controlled microscopes, and access to specimen and collection databases. Cybertaxonomy, in time, will reduce the need to loan or handle specimens as well as the time and effort required to access historic literature and data from other institutions. Online monographs reduce the cost of collaborative projects and increase the visibility of taxonomic revisions or discoveries. The demands of cybertaxonomy are underpinned by innovations in digital imaging, visualization software, databases, the develop­ment of data models since the mid 1990s, and, more recently, robotics. Cybertaxonomy is depen­dent on emerging technologies and online com­munication tools rather more than on physical access to museum collections, libraries, and col­lecting sites. The future merger of cyberinfrastruc­ture with goals of traditional taxonomy will increase the visibility of museum collections and vastly accelerate the work of descriptive taxono­mists, making taxonomic information both openly accessible and understandable to the many users who need it.

Why Cybertaxonomy?

The current biodiversity crisis has resulted in a demand for stable classifications and reliable speci­men identification. Traditional taxonomy, under­funded during the 1990s and 2000s in part due to an overemphasis on technological “solutions” to the practical problems of identifying species and assessing their cladistic (phylogenetic) relationships, has not produced the number of descriptions and revised classifications needed in order to satisfy the demand of end users, such as ecologists, policymak­ers, conservationists, agriculturists, foresters, and fisheries managers. The demands of end users as well as taxonomists themselves have led to the creation of hundreds of databases that reflect infor­mation content associated with specimens, many accessible through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) portal, growing sup­port for a registry of animal names, scanning legacy literature, and creating a Web page for every known species. A typical specimen database minimally includes the species name, reference to higher taxa, collection locality and geographic coordinates, date of collection, name of collector, method of collec­tion, and the name of the institution and a unique identification number. The pace at which taxo­nomic classifications are revised and published has slowed due to the amount of effort invested in data­bases and technology outweighing the number of adequate taxonomists. This imbalance has led to new initiatives in data storage, such as combined databases, library catalogs, digitized bibliographies, and image databases. Even so, a large majority of these projects do not provide taxonomists with ways to access specimens or efficiently “truth” and improve the data. Alternative technologies aimed at end users of taxonomic information are intended to provide ways with which to identify and classify species quickly without the need for traditional taxonomic methods. These technologies have put a greater burden on taxonomy, contributing to poor funding and employment opportunities. Ironically, such databases are accelerating access to informa­tion that is less frequently updated and verified than in the past.

Previous efforts to revitalize taxonomy have focused on user communities in the hope that they would step up to the challenge and do their par­ticular part to revive species discovery, descrip­tion, and testing. The high cost of emerging technologies and the lack of access to collections have prevented many user groups from revitaliz­ing taxonomy in a way that preserves the integrity of its best theories and practices. Cheaper tech­nologies such as online descriptive keys and DNA bar coding are being adopted by user communities as ways to mimic reliable identifications and clas­sifications. Data associated with specimens are accessed efficiently at the same time that the test­ing and enhancement of the information content of those collections are ignored. User-driven ini­tiatives tend to focus on species identification and access to existing publications and data rather than acknowledging the significant work required to create, update, and verify the status of species and the reliability of associated data. As technolo­gies rather than theory-dependent methodologies, such approaches ultimately fail to describe, clas­sify, and identify taxa reliably. Their use in tax­onomy is highly questionable and detracts from

the important scientific questions associated with taxonomy as an independent science. DNA bar coding, for example, appears to be limited as an identification tool and is potentially misleading as a species discovery tool. Its appropriate applica­tion requires the prior discovery and delimitation of species and the creation of a complete reference “library” in order to approach the reliability of traditional species identification methods. The debate surrounding end user needs versus the needs of taxonomists has generated controversy in the scientific media. Many have called for an end to the “” through quick identifications, while others have highlighted the demise of taxonomic training and funding. The taxonomic impediment entails a lack of awareness of the importance of reliable descriptions, robust classifications, and effective identifications and the continuing need to train taxonomists as well as provide opportunities for funding and employ­ment of taxonomists, and the improvement of taxonomy’s research infrastructure.

Ironically, calls to resolve the taxonomic imped­iment include adopting inferior alternatives rather than increased taxonomic funding, further fueling the debate between technology-driven expedien­cies and rigorous taxonomy. The development of cybertaxonomy is not intended only to meet end user demand, but primarily to serve taxonomy and increase the opportunities for taxonomists. Through enabling taxonomic research at the high­est levels of quality and efficiency, end users will gain access to the most reliable information pos­sible, which is presumably what all end users would choose. And taxonomists will be positioned to pursue the “big questions” of their field that remain unanswered and that are fundamental to understanding Earth’s biological diversity.

Taxonomy in Practice

Taxonomy, as noted earlier, is the science of biologi­cal classification; the goal of taxonomy is to compare organisms in order to place them into groups based on defining characteristics. These groups may be artificial, for example based on one arbitrary charac­ter system; or natural, based on shared or common relationships. Artificial groups are often based on few characteristics, such as the sexual organs of plants as devised by the 18th-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), although they may be based on large numbers of characteristics as in phenetics, popular in the 1970s. Although artificial systems can help in identifying organisms through the generation of identification keys, they do not necessarily reflect the relationships that unite natural or real groups. A major breakthrough in taxonomy occurred in the early 19th century when taxonomists Augustine Pyramus de Candolle (1778-1841), Antoine Laurent Jussieu (1748-1836), and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) attempted to order groups based on relationships, or homologies, that are shared among members of a natural group. Many taxonomic groups described in the 19th century remain in use today. Nevertheless, classifications must be repeat­edly revised and taxa added or deleted if they are to remain reflections of our full knowledge and evi­dence of such natural groupings.

Willi Hennig (1913-1976) refined the concept of natural classifications even further. His vision was for classifications to be the general reference system for , reasoning that the only com­mon thread running through all life was phylog­eny, their shared history. Hennig understood that classifications provided a conceptual framework within which to consider any biological fact or phenomenon in the context of evolutionary his­tory; that such natural classifications were the best all-around way to store and retrieve information; and that natural classifications allowed for predic­tions about the distribution of attributes not yet known. The ultimate goal of taxonomy is such a natural classification. Contributing to this goal are cladistic or phylogenetic analyses that reveal natural relationships that subsequently can be reflected in formal classifications and names.


The formal naming of species and groups of species plays a role in biology whose importance cannot be overstated. Names refer to species or groups and allow for the storage, retrieval, and communication of information about them. They are also notations for taxonomists’ hypotheses about taxa and their characteristics, providing an efficient way to refer to the accumulated knowl­edge associated with such names. International codes of nomenclature exist that guide the proper naming of species of plants, animals, and microbes. These include provisions for dealing with situa­tions where a type specimen is lost or destroyed. In such cases, replacements or neotypes may be des­ignated, usually based on specimens from the original type locality, and not infrequently elevated from material available to the original describer, paratypes.

Names for species and certain other categories in the Linnaean system are typified. Types are speci­mens that are the name bearers for species. Types serve like international standards against which changing ideas about the identity of species or higher taxa may be referenced. There is no expecta­tion that a type specimen is in any sense typical of its species or that it reveals all or even any particular characteristics of the species or groups to which it belongs. Species, higher taxa, and their characteris­tics are all hypotheses and like other hypotheses are subject to improvement through time as more specimens or evidence becomes available. If a spe­cies is later found to be comprised of several previ­ously unrecognized species, the name applies to that division in which the type specimen is deemed to belong. Types are most often specimens that have been named, described, diagnosed, and photo­graphed or illustrated, published, recorded, and cataloged within a museum collection. Taxonomists frequently must reexamine type specimens in order to resolve species boundary disputes and ensure stability in the application of names. Because type specimens are unique and usually fragile, many museums and herbaria are appropriately reluctant to lend them for study and taxonomists are forced to travel to many institutions in order to resolve such problems. Cybertaxonomy offers two avenues of assistance in this regard. First, as archives of images of type specimens accumulate, many ques­tions about the specimens can be resolved by simply examining these images online, some of which may be three-dimensional (3-D) or detailed images of diagnostic characters. Second, as remotely operable microscopes become more commonplace a taxono­mist can potentially examine, manipulate, and pho­tograph a specimen from any computer in the world linked via the Internet.

A recent trend to analyze phylogenetic relation­ships and publish “trees” rather than revised for­mal classifications has resulted in a widening gap between what we think we know about natural groups and the names that refer to them. Such studies underestimate the inherent strength of pre­cision of scientific names. Trees alone may suffice to meet the needs of a few scientists attempting to interpret their observations in the light of phylog­eny, but they are not a substitute for formal clas­sifications and names or Hennig’s general reference system. Significant confusion may ensue in verbal and written communication, published findings, and use of public databases when such a gap remains unclosed.


Any specimen material that is collected in the field is deposited in a collection of some kind. Ideally, museum collections are publicly accessible repositories where types and other specimens are stored, registered, and maintained. New specimens are always being added, and some museums act as official state or national repositories for all types. Museum collections ensure that specimens are available in order to be compared to new species. Without collections it would be difficult to create new species or to validate species names. Many museums and universities allow interinstitutional loans of specimens, although this is not practical for large, fragile, or rare specimens. A large pro­portion of such loans rely on individual honesty and a reliable postal system, and many specimens have been lost or damaged while on loan.

Collections will remain the primary infrastruc­ture for cybertaxonomy, just as they have been for taxonomy for centuries. Many collections have been developed largely for taxonomic research and as such may appear curious to other biologists. Collections typically do not reflect relative abun­dance of species in a habitat or frequency of par­ticular “morphs” within populations. There are often as many or more specimens of species that are rare in the field as there are of species common in the field. Taxonomists place a premium on access to the full range of variation within and among species and access to as many species as possible for com­parative studies. The ultimate goal of such collec­tions is to provide a comprehensive representation of species for study and comparison. The scientific value of collections resides in their information con­tent. Unless we know where and when specimens were collected or their identities and relationships, their value to science is enormously diminished. Thus, curators of collections and the institutions that possess collections have two fundamental obli­gations. First is to provide for the physical care of the specimens to maximize the period of time they remain available to science. This involves tempera­ture and humidity control and protection from pest species. Second is to provide for the care of the information content of the collections. This primar­ily involves support for taxonomic research that ensures that species are accurately identified and reflect the state of our knowledge. Unless existing specimens are reassessed and newly accessioned specimens included in taxonomic works, collections retain or add very little scientific value.

Collections are at the heart of cybertaxonomy, and many of the priorities of cybertaxonomy involve access to or enhancement of the information content of collections. Ways to maximize the growth and development of collections and the expansion and improvement of taxonomic knowledge will remain the core of cybertaxonomy. Above all else, the deposition of specimens in collections makes taxonomic assertions and descriptions testable by virtue of reexamining the actual material upon which such works were based. If dire predictions of species extinctions in the 21st century are realized, collections will take on even more importance. The estimated 3 billion specimens in museums and herbaria around the world already reflect most of what we know of biodiversity. As biodiversity is diminished, collections will become literally irreplaceable evidence of biodiversity.


Taxonomic revisions, new species, or nomen­clatural notes are published in scientific journals, monographs, books, and online. The majority of taxonomic literature is published in scientific jour­nals and kept in museum or university libraries. Any revision or addition of a new species needs to be compared not only to a vouchered type speci­men, but also to its diagnosis and description. The practice of recording new species or revised spe­cies, genera, and families was introduced by Linneaus in the 18th century. Publication of new species names, synonymies, or revisions is essential in keeping track of the number of described species and valid names. Access to relevant publications is limited due what each individual library holds and what material is kept elsewhere. Taxonomists who need a particular publication rely on electronic library catalogs in order to track publications in other libraries. Many museum or university librar­ies receive interlibrary loan requests from taxono­mists. Taxonomists may also rely on societies or other scholarly networks in order to access litera­ture that is not found in online library catalogues. Taxonomists often need to travel to libraries that do not loan rare or fragile texts.

Monographs and Revisions

The process of revision is based on periodic com­prehensive reviews of all species previously described in a taxon plus the incorporation of specimens accu­mulated since the most recent revision, adding any newly discovered characteristics, and critically reas­sessing previously documented characteristics. Conclusions are expressed in revised and corrected diagnoses, and descriptions and verification of appropriate and stable name usage also typically require reexamination of type specimens. Species described in the context of revisions and mono­graphs are almost always preferable to isolated spe­cies descriptions. In the past, the amount of unsorted material that had accumulated since the most recent revision and the number of isolated species contrib­uted to the literature were usual indicators of the time when a new revision was called for. In the con­text of cybertaxonomy and taxon knowledge com­munities, it is possible to envision a process whereby the “knowledge base” for a taxon (the sum total data from which a current monograph could be assembled) is continuously updated as new speci­mens and characteristics arise. This would make monographs dynamic and always up-to-date “docu­ments” rather than infrequently completed studies that are out of date for most of their existence. Monographs are so important in taxonomy because their focus is on a single group; they provide a com­prehensive treatment of all known species in that group and all available relevant information about them. Taxonomists typically focus on monophyletic groups, meaning that they transcend geographic and ecological boundaries that often shape other biological studies. In the case of revisions, they may or may not include all species, some revisions being restricted to one or more but not all biogeographic regions. In botany there is a strong history of such geographically focused species treatments—floras— although these not infrequently follow monographs. Any artificial constraint, such as setting arbitrary geographic bounds, obviously detracts from the comprehensive comparativeness that gives mono­graphs their greatest strength, yet such regional works have very great value to users of taxonomic literature who need to identify species in the field. Cybertaxonomy promises to meet both needs by creating a community “knowledge base” from which monographs, floras (or faunas), or region specific species treatments could be extracted at the touch of a button. Academic societies, museums, and publishers tend to print monographs in small print runs. While demand at any one moment may not be great, the longevity of monographs is impres­sive. A well-done monograph may remain a stan­dard reference for a century or more, and may change with electronic or e-monographs that are potentially renewed with every addition or correc­tion and that can be produced on demand.

An e-monograph is an online electronic docu­ment, such as a word processing file, that contains an embedded database. The document can be reviewed by several authors, who could edit the text simultaneously. The e-monograph can be published when the initial edition is completed, either as an electronic file or as hard copy with an assigned DoI (digital object identifier). Any changes made to the e-monograph will be recorded for the next edition and updated on linked online databases such as EoL (Encyclopedia of Life) and GBIF.

End Users of Taxonomy

Taxonomists make species identifiable, provide names that enable us to communicate about species as well as retrieve data about them, and classify spe­cies in a cladistic context that enables us to interpret their attributes in an evolutionary (historical) con­text as well as make predictions about the distribu­tion of properties among poorly studied species. Ecologists, conservation biologists, agriculturists, aquaculturists, government agents, policymakers, breeders, farmers, fishmongers, greengrocers, gar­deners, and eco-tourists are just some of the many end users of taxonomy. The importance of a cor­rectly identified species that is linked to a scientific name (and in some cases to standardized common names) is vital in all areas of industry, government, conservation, and biological research. Correct spe­cies descriptions ensure accurate identification of pests. Correctly assigned names help policymakers target the right groups for conservation. A misap­plied name or poor species identification, for instance, could lead to mass poisoning, species extinction, or crop failure and famine. Providing high-quality taxonomy is essential in maintaining scientific integrity and rigor within society. A com­plete inventory of species allows biologists and land managers to detect increases or decreases in biodi­versity, ecologists to detect introductions of nonna­tive species, and border agents to recognize trade in endangered species and to intercept introductions of pest species or potential agents of bioterrorism.

End User Impediments

The number of taxonomists and taxonomic monographs has dwindled since the 1980s. The biodiversity crisis has led to much funding being diverted away from taxonomy and toward envi­ronmental assessments, conservation projects, or molecular genetics. A lack in funding has also reduced career prospects in taxonomy and damp­ened the productivity of existing taxonomists. Many large, diverse, and economically, ecologi­cally, or evolutionarily important taxa have few living experts. Because no young taxonomists are apprenticing, much existing knowledge stands to be lost and will be recreated only through inordi­nate expense and effort. Recent advances in molecular systematics have also had an impact on attracting younger people to phylogenetics, population dynamics, and evolutionary biology. Taxonomy as a science of classification has received criticism for being nonmolecular or “stamp collecting.” Given that environmental assessments, conservation biology, and molecular systematics are dependent on taxonomy, the lack in funding since the 1980s has led to an impedi­ment for end users; that is, a lack of reliable taxo­nomic information for those who need it. Molecular systematics and ecology are using taxonomic groups that have not been described, which leads to poorer phylogenies and environmental assess­ments. Because such undescribed, unnamed species are rarely vouchered with museum or her­barium specimens, many such studies cannot be repeated and are thereby marginally scientific. The call for more reliable taxonomic information sparked a debate in the late 1990s as to how to store and update taxonomic information in a reli­able and user-friendly way. Cybertaxonomists will increasingly use these and other systems to more efficiently make what is known of species readily accessible to users.

Electronic databases for generating keys, pro­viding geospatial species information, and editing names and synonymies has existed since the mid- 1990s as biodiversity informatics. The rationale behind biodiversity informatics has been to pro­vide end users of taxonomy with data via an easily accessible technology such as electronic databases, keys, and georeferencing tools. End users can modify those data, which are then updated instantly, avoiding the need for printed publica­tions. The innovations provided by biodiversity informatics has lead to a number of electronic resources and tools that can help taxonomists, such as online databases or names and descrip­tions that are edited by taxonomists, and virtual libraries.

Electronic Databases

An electronic file that contains structured data (i.e., records) is an electronic database. Computer software may utilize the database either by extract­ing the data in order to make a key or by editing the data in order to keep records up to date. The database is simply an efficient way to store data based on some types of categories. In taxonomy, a database can contain names, synonymies, descriptions, distributions, numbers of specimens, where they are kept, and the name of the person who collected them. New data can be added at any time based on data extracted elsewhere, such as another database. The Encyclopedia of Life (EoL) uses a database to organize its information on any given species. Information that is missing can be extracted elsewhere, added, and edited. Databases may be accessible to all, as in the case of Wikipedia, or only to registered users (e.g., FishBase). In some cases any edited or newly added data need to be reviewed for rigor before they are accepted and published online. Databases are used for all information systems in biodiver­sity informatics.

Digital Libraries

The benefit of a digital library is that it eliminates the need to borrow taxonomic texts or travel to libraries to consult rare or fragile books in order to do taxonomy. Rules of nomenclature dictate that all available names, names proposed in accordance with the codes, be taken into consideration. As an exam­ple, in zoology taxonomists must generally be aware of every species described since January 1, 1758. Thus taxonomists have a special and unusually demanding dependency on access to such rare publi­cations. A digital library contains a database and images of texts. The database contains metadata, that is, a structured template that provides informa­tion such as author’s name, year of publication, title, publisher, number of pages, and plates and figures. Catalog software extracts the relevant information from the database, informing the taxonomists where a particular author, title, and/or subject can be found. A digital library differs from most online catalogs in that it can also find particular words within a text, such as species names or descriptions. This information is extracted from scanned or pho­tographed images of whole texts using optical char­acter recognition (OCR) software. A fully accessible text in any given virtual library can provide all the information given by the metadata. The innovation of digital libraries is that texts, normally unavailable, can now be searched page by page.

Cybertaxonomy in Practice

Cybertaxonomy is emerging in a series of initiatives that each seek to resolve some aspect of the taxo­nomic impediment. Any hindrance to taxonomy, the employment or training of taxonomists, and taxonomic funding is a taxonomic impediment. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has several rel­evant initiatives, including Partnerships to Enhance Expertise in Taxonomy (PEET), Revisionary Syntheses in Systematics (RevSys), and Planetary Biodiversity Inventories (PBI). Other grants exist to build, maintain, and house museum collections as well as provide funding for taxonomists; for exam­ple, the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS). The future of cybertaxonomy lies in fur­thering these initiatives by incorporating technology from biodiversity informatics, medical sciences, and space exploration in order to expedite species descriptions and identifications; provide remote access to collections and virtual libraries; assist in collecting specimens in the field; and attract a new generation of taxonomists, training possibilities, and funding.


Sampling and collecting populations in the field is time consuming and costly. The procedure for any fieldtrip involves obtaining permissions to enter reserves as well as to collect, which is followed by organizing a team of taxonomists and resources. No online technology is tailored to organize fieldtrips, obtain permissions electronically, and contact the taxonomic community. Currently, several software programs exist that are used by the travel and hospi­tality industries to achieve similar aims (i.e., visas, package tours, accommodation, travel, etc.). In the future, cybertaxonomy will be able to reduce the time involved organizing fieldtrips through incorporating the existing cyberinfrastructure from industry. Similarly, hardware used in remote sensing, such as satellites and geospatial technology, can be used to assess whether areas are physically accessible. Robotics used in space exploration (e.g., Mars rovers) can also be used to collect in areas not easily accessible (e.g., hydrothermal hot springs, deep sea vents, caves, bore­holes). Similar advances are on the horizon for the preparation of specimens and making those speci­mens more accessible to experts around the globe.

Specimen Curation

The practical difficulties of specimen curation can be resolved through creating online databases that can track specimen loans, register specimens, and produce specimen labels and tags. Several software programs exist that use such databases and provide the necessary services. In the future, specimens might also be housed in collections operated by automated archival systems powered by robotics. Similar sys­tems are in use for a large array of services from car parking to document archives. Prepared and labeled specimens could be archived in an automated system with minimal risk of damage or loss.

Remote Access to Specimens

Currently, taxonomists are impeded by collections or specimens that are housed at distant institutions. In order to complete a revision, a taxonomists would need to visit institutions that either contain rare or fragile specimens (such as types) or house specimens too numerous to send via an interinstitutional loan. Viewing specimens in this way is costly and time con­suming. Taxonomists have overcome such hurdles through examining photographs of specimens, but these provide only a single view of the specimen. Technology such as remote microscope access over­comes these impediments. In the future, microscopes linked to museum or university collections could pro­vide taxonomists with the opportunity to view the specimens in real time. Remote robotics used in medi­cal sciences to perform live operations could be linked to such systems to give taxonomists the opportunity to examine, dissect, and rotate specimens without the need for interinstitutional loans or travel. Remote microscopy and robotics are a reality in the biological and medical sciences, and over time will be standard within all natural history museums. Advantages to institutions include having leading authorities study and photograph the specimens, contributing to online libraries of images that can obviate the need to exam­ine the specimen again for many purposes.

The combining of both technologies in taxon­omy will advance species exploration and attract students who will be able to be taught online. The full implications for educating taxonomists is yet to be realized, but the potential for students, teachers, and specimens to each be located in dif­ferent cities or countries completely changes the educational possibilities.

Comparative Morphology Research and Visualization

Morphological descriptions require communica­tion of complex visual information. A photograph with one focal point is rarely sufficient. Well- executed drawings will retain great value in com­parative morphology as an artist is able to convey the meaningful parts of a structure and avoid “noise” from associated uninformative structures. A new species description contains a photograph of the type(s) and a detailed drawing or reconstruction of the specimen. The digital world of cybertaxon­omy opens many additional options for creating, analyzing, sharing, and imaging morphological information. Digital images, whether from electron microscopes, digital imaging systems, or digitized artwork, are easily transmitted, and electronic monographs need not be constrained by printing costs associated with large numbers of images. Multiple focal depths can be sutured together into a single image for convex specimens. Computer- assisted tomography and other emerging systems permit fully digitized 3-D images that can be rotated or “printed” as 3-D models. Rapid progress is being made in new ways to visualize complex struc­tures both in theaters and in single-user devices. All this promises to revolutionize the study and enjoy­ment of morphology for future generations.

e-Monographs and e-Revisions

An e-monograph is an online electronic docu­ment, such as a word processing file, that contains an embedded database. The document can be viewed by several authors who could edit the text simultaneously. The e-monograph can be published when the initial edition is completed, either as an electronic file or as hard copy with an assigned DoI. Any changes made to the e-monograph will be recorded for the next edition and updated on linked online databases such as EoL and GBIF.

Cybertaxonomy is the future of taxonomy. In 2006, Google recorded up to 10 hits. Within 2 years this had expanded rapidly to 1,600. Over a short period, taxonomists and the end users of taxonomy have adopted a new science, one that will define the future of biology and ways in which biologists will communicate and interact over time.

Malte C. Ebach and Quentin D. Wheeler

See also DNA; Evolution, Organic; Libraries; Museums

Further Readings

Appel, T. A. (1987). The Cuvier-Geoffrey debate: French biology in the decades before Darwin. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Encyclopedia of Life. (n.d.). Retrieved September 5, 2008, from

Global Biodiversity Information Facility. (n.d.). Retrieved September 5, 2008, from

Hennig, W. (1966). Phylogenetic systematics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Koerner, L. (1999). Linnaeus: Nature and nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nelson, G., & Platnick, N. (1981). Systematics and biogeography: Cladistics and vicariance. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wheeler, Q. D. (2008). The new taxonomy (Systematics Association Special Publication 76). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Williams D. M., & Ebach, M. C. (2008). Foundations of systematics and biogeography. New York: Springer Verlag.

What do you think?



Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí