The role and relevance of taxonomy in the conservation and utilisation of Australian Acacias
Bruce R. Maslin
Department of Conservation and Land Management, Locked Bag 104, Bentley Delivery Centre, Western Australia 6983
In biology, taxonomy is defined as the science of delimiting organisms, naming them and determining their relationships. It is the foundation upon which all biological sciences rely. Acacia is the largest genus of flowering plants in Australia (comprising almost 1 000 species) and is an important component of many ecosystems, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas. The species exhibit considerable morphological, ecological and biological variation and as such offer considerable scope for economic, social and commercial utilisation. In order to undertake effective conservation, utilisation and management of this enormous resource it is essential to have meaningfully defined, and named, biological entities (e.g. species and infraspecific taxa). The provision of names through taxonomic research is fundamentally important because names are the ‘hooks’ by which information about taxa is stored, retrieved and exchanged. Taxonomic keys are the tools that enable us to identify specimens. In a large genus like Acacia, electronic multi-access keys have advantages over conventional paper-based keys. Voucher specimens, which enable names to be verified, provide an important mechanism for protecting the value of information assembled for taxa. The implications for Australia of the proposal to divide Acacia into five genera are discussed briefly.