From microscope to management: the critical value of plankton taxonomy to marine policy and biodiversity conservation
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Taxonomic information provides a crucial understanding of the most basic component of biodiversity – which organisms are present in a region or ecosystem. Taxonomy, however, is a discipline in decline, at times perceived as ‘obsolete’ due to technical advances in science, and with fewer trained taxonomists and analysts emerging each year to replace the previous generation as it retires. Simultaneously, increasing focus is turned towards sustainable management of the marine environment using an ecosystem approach, and towards conserving biodiversity, key species, and habitats. Sensitive indicators derived from taxonomic data are instrumental to the successful delivery of these efforts. At the base of the marine food web and closely linked to their immediate environment, plankton are increasingly needed as indicators to support marine policy, inform conservation efforts for higher trophic organisms, and protect human health. Detailed taxonomic data, containing information on the presence/absence and abundance of individual plankton species, are required to underpin the development of sensitive species- and community-level indicators which are necessary to understand subtle changes in marine ecosystems and inform management and conservation efforts. Here the critical importance of plankton taxonomic data is illustrated, and therefore plankton taxonomic expertise, in informing marine policy and conservation and outline challenges, and potential solutions, facing this discipline.
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