Biodiversity and identification

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Diversity of meadow plants.
Identification of plants can be fun for everyone.

The term biodiversity is short for “biological diversity.” It stands for the huge variety of life on Earth — the plants, animals, habitats and human cultures that populate the planet. The interconnections among the species support and link these living things in a fragile web of life.

Biodiversity is important!

Only in the past few decades have people begun to realize the amazing abundance and variety of life and to understand the interdependent relationships shared by all living things. We are also beginning to realize that a significant loss of biodiversity could seriously undermine our long-term economic, intellectual, physical and emotional wellbeing. Citizens are needed, who have the skills and confidence to rise to the challenge of protecting biodiversity and who feel empowered to do so. Education is one of the best tools for achieving this goal. Thus, the teaching of biodiversity in schools is an important topic in science curricula.

The best way to understand biodiversity is by experiencing biodiversity. A wonderful way to do so is by identifying living organisms of a certain taxon (species, genus, family, etc) or of a certain location.

Exploring biodiversity with identification tools

Classification and identification - albeit related - belong to two different operational processes. After Gutenberg, information useful for identifying organisms was printed on paper. The constraints of a paper-printed text have forced most authors to organise information according to the hierarchical schemes of biological classification. Computer-based programmes now allow us to identify organisms without reference to classification in biological systems.

Classification is the job of taxonomists, identification can be fun for everyone.

This section contains useful advice for non-specialists who are using keys, either in an educational context or just for fun. The text is written by Bob Press, Associate Keeper of Botany at the Natural History Museum (London, UK).

The principles of identification
An introduction to why identification is important, identification keys and how scientists name species.
The process of identification
How to identify specimens using keys.