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Botanical classification and nomenclature - an introduction

Sosef, Marc; Degreef, Jérôme; Engledow, Henry; Meerts, Pierre

Biology is the science that explores the living world around us. To communicate the wonders of nature, names are needed to describe the variety of forms we encounter. This wildly diverse nature may be represented through a hierarchical structure where names are used to indicate groups of organisms at different levels. The classification and naming of organisms is an essential tool for scientific communication. It forms the foundation upon which biological research is based and the discipline is called “Taxonomy”. Taxonomists explore, describe, name, and classify all living organisms on Earth.

Correctly classifying and naming organisms is crucial to a wide range of biological research fields. Such a framework is also essential to address the topics of sustainable usage and biodiversity management and conservation, including their legal context. This booklet provides an overview of the most important elements and processes of the classification and naming of plants and fungi, hence the field called “Plant Taxonomy”. We will commence with a historical overview of this discipline. Although we do not deal exhaustively with the methods to reconstruct evolutionary pathways (phylogenetics), we do provide the historical context of its development and some elements that directly influence taxonomic decisions. The aim of this booklet is to provide an introduction and practical guide to this research field. As such, it can be used by those having a specific interest in the classification and naming of plants, but also by those teaching this subject in secondary and tertiary education institutions.

Although the information is general, most examples are drawn from tropical African plant and fungal diversity. Each chapter is followed by an overview of literature and web-based sources related to the subjects dealt. This is by no means exhaustive, and again focusses on the taxonomy of African plants and fungi.

The authors hope that this publication will contribute to the development of taxonomic expertise, notably in the Central African region. The booklet is produced in English and French, and will be available free of charge (under the CC-BY—NC license) to high schools and universities (both teachers and students), courtesy of Meise Botanic Garden.

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