Parataxonomy is a system of labor division for use in biodiversity research, in which the rough sorting tasks of specimen collection, field identification, documentation and preservation are conducted by primarily local, less specialized individuals, thereby alleviating the workload for the "alpha" or "master" taxonomist.

Parataxonomy may be used to improve taxonomic efficiency by enabling more expert taxonomists to restrict their activity to the tasks that require their specialist knowledge and skills, which has the potential to expedite the rate at which new taxa may be described and existing taxa may be sorted and discussed.

Parataxonomists generally work in the field, sorting collected samples into recognizable taxonomic units (RTUs) based on easily recognized features. The process can be used alone for rapid assessment of biodiversity.[1] Some researchers consider this process prone to error depending on the sample, the sorter and the group of organisms in question. Therefore, quantitative studies based on parataxonomic processes may be unreliable[2] and is therefore controversial.[3]

The term is attributed to Daniel Janzen who used it to describe the role of assistants working at INBio in Costa Rica.[4] During the time period that Janzen's parataxonomic model was in place, INBio became the second largest biological collection in Latin America with over 3.5 million collections, all of which were digitized. As of 2015, the institute had produced over 2,500 scientific articles, 250 books and 316 conventions. Its website logged an average of 25,000 unique visitors daily from 125 countries, and its park had received upwards of 15 million visitors.[5]

Today, the concepts of Citizen science and parataxonomy are somewhat overlapping, with unclear distinctions between those employed to provide supplemental services to taxonomists and those who do so voluntarily, whether for personal enrichment or the altruistic desire to make substantive scientific contributions. These terms are occasionally used interchangeably, but some taxonomists maintain that each possess unique differences.


  1. Oliver, I.; Beattie, A. J. (1993). "A Possible Method for the Rapid Assessment of Biodiversity". Conservation Biology. 7 (3): 562–568. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.1993.07030562.x.
  2. Krell, Frank-Thorsten (2004). "Parataxonomy vs. taxonomy in biodiversity studies – pitfalls and applicability of 'morphospecies' sorting" (PDF). Biodiversity and Conservation. 13 (4): 795–812. doi:10.1023/B:BIOC.0000011727.53780.63.
  3. Goldstein, Paul Z. (April 1997). "How many things are there? A Reply to Oliver and Beattie, Beattie and Oliver, Oliver and Beattie, and Oliver and Beattie". Conservation Biology. 11 (2): 571–574. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.1997.96119.x. JSTOR 2387635.
  4. Janzen, Daniel H. (1991). "How to save tropical biodiversity". American Entomologist. 37 (3): 159–171. doi:10.1093/ae/37.3.159.
  5. Fonesca Q., Pablo (25 April 2015). "A Major Center of Biodiversity Research Crumbles". Scientific American. Retrieved 24 July 2019.

See also

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