Taxonomy on the verge of extinction: Ministry

Environment Minister confers the E.K. Janaki Ammal award for Animal Taxonomy on P.T. Cherian

Environment Minister confers the E.K. Janaki Ammal award for Animal Taxonomy on P.T. Cherian  

Many species will never be identified, say scientists

When P.T. Cherian started working on the group of Chrolopidae, commonly called grass flies, there were only about seven species from the group known in the country. At present, the family is known by 1,100 species from India and adjacent countries.

Conferred the E. K. Janaki Ammal award for Animal Taxonomy, the highest award in the field of taxonomy by the government earlier this month, Dr. Cherian is credited with the discovery of about 700 new species, 20 new genera from the Chloropidae, a family from Diptera, in his career spanning five decades.

Speaking to The Hindu, the 75-year-old taxonomist referred to his discovery of four new species of Siphunculina genus of Chloropidae flies responsible for spreading eye diseases in humans.

Majority undiscovered

Dr. Cherian, however, said there was a need to look beyond his achievements. and there was a lot of work pending as far as animal taxonomy, particularly taxonomy of insects was concerned.

“About 88% of the insects are yet to be discovered and named. If these insects are not discovered, many will become extinct before they are even known to us,” Dr. Cherian, a visiting faculty at the University of Kerala said.

Like Dr. Cherian, S.R.Yadav, is the E. K Janaki Ammal award winner for Plant Taxonomy for 2017. Dr. Yadav, who established the School of Angiosperm Taxonomy at Shivaji University, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, is credited with the discovery of about 60 species of plants. They include Trithuria Konkanensis, a very ancient group of angiosperms found in the Konkan region along with Crinum Malabaricum, a species with largest leaves in the genus Crinum known for its medicinal properties in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Echoing Dr. Cherian’s thoughts, the plant taxonomist described taxonomy as the “mother branch of biology”. “If the country does not have enough taxonomists, will scientists from abroad come to identify plants in India?” he said. If proper studies are undertaken, scientists can discover 5,000-10,000 plants across the country in the next few decades, he said.

Another taxonomist S. Shivaji, who is credited with the discovery of 82 new species and eight new genera of extremophilic micro-organisms (microbes that are found in very severe conditions), is the recipient of the E.K. Janaki Ammal award in the area of taxonomy of micro organisms.

Dr. Shivaji, who has done most of his work at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, said that while researchers these days like to play around with genes, taxonomy is a basic science and if there is any problem in identification of a species it will have a lot of downstream effect on other areas of science as well.

The solution is that universities, other than the Zoological Survey of India and the Botanical Survey of India, will have to train taxonomists by encouraging students to take up field work.

Interestingly, India is a mega biodiversity country. So far, 1,01,167 faunal species have been recorded in the country, which is about 6.45 % of faunal species found in the world. Similarly, about 49,003 floral species, which is 11.4 % of the world flora, is found in India.

No takers

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, in response to a question in the Lok Sabha in April 2018, admitted that this traditional science is on the verge of extinction.

“It is mainly due to lack of interest among students in the discipline and significantly lower career prospects. The science of taxonomy has been declining for several years now, with very few qualified practising taxonomists and teachers in lndia,” was the response of the Ministry to a question.

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Printable version | Jun 7, 2020 9:16:06 AM |

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