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Why taxonomy matters
A series of case studies highlighting Taxonomy's Value to Society

Implementing the Global Taxonomy Initiative of the CBD
Taxonomic tools allow rapid problem-solving by non-specialists

Relevant Sector: Agriculture (dates)

Geographic Location: Southern Namibia

Problem Statement: Date production for export is an emerging industry in the arid parts of southern and western Namibia. However, after severe flooding in 2001, the viability of the local date industry was threatened by an epidemic outbreak of an unknown crown rot disease that killed date palms in affected plantations.

Methods: Investigators used various products produced by SAFRINET (the Southern African LOOP of BioNET-INTERNATIONAL) including electronic manuals on collecting techniques for a variety of micro-organisms as well as information products. With such tools at hand, it was possible for local entomologists to identify the likely causal agent as a fungal disease and to evaluate the symptoms and characteristics of the organism in order to accurately report and request assistance, as well as to prepare appropriate isolates for further investigation. As a result of SAFRINET networking, it was furthermore possible to consult and submit samples to a taxonomic expert within the subregion for identification at negligible cost.

Outcomes and Impacts: The causal organism was identified as Fusarium oxysporum, a species that may be of quarantine concern, though definitive identification will only be possible at an exorbitant cost since no isolates of the particular fungal strain are available in the subregion. The cost was regarded as unwarranted for an emerging industry and economy. Though the problem disappeared after a while (most likely because of soils drying out and prophylactic treatment), date plantations are now carefully monitored to report any recurrence of such symptoms. Though the economic costs have been fairly insignificant to date, it proved the value of appropriate taxonomic products that may allow rapid investigation and preliminary identification of a problem, as well as the value of taxonomic networking. The value of definitive voucher collections should also not be underestimated, as the question still remains as to which variety of the fungus caused the problem.

Lessons: Taxonomic networks facilitate important information exchange. Appropriate information tools in taxonomy allow rapid inter- and cross-disciplinary communication. Regionally accessible taxonomic voucher collections, particularly of quarantine pests, are essential for taxonomic self-sufficiency.


Contact Information: Eugene Marais, Entomology Centre, National Museum of Namibia, P.O.Box 1203, Windhoek. Namibia . email: ph: +00 264 61 27 68 35. Fax: +00 (264 61) 22 86 36