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Arboretum Highlights the Science of Systematics / July 28, 2004 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Photo: View of U.S. Capitol from National Arboretum
View of U.S. Capitol from National Arboretum. Click the image for more information about it.

Arboretum Highlights the Science of Systematics

By Alfredo Flores
July 28, 2004

The U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., has a new exhibit on the highly specialized science of systematics and its impact on society.

Called "Systematics: The Invisible Safety Net for Food Security and the Environment," the exhibit will be on display from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily in the main lobby of the arboretum's administration building until the end of September. The arboretum is located at 3501 New York Ave., N.E., in Washington, and is operated by the Agricultural Research Service.

The arboretum's systematics collection is one of many in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area that collectively contain millions of samples of plants, insects, nematodes, fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms. The various collections are used each day by scientists who work in the field of systematics, also known as taxonomy.

Scientists at the ARS Systematics Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., serve as a link between the biological collections and scientists, academics, government agents, private citizens and other users. With its partner, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, ARS helps maintain hundreds of collections of thousands of insect species from all corners of the world.

Systematics is the science of classifying and identifying species, which provides a formal nomenclature system--the task of assigning a name to a species--and allows systematists to identify, describe and organize these myriad living things. It is central to the study of the diversity of life on Earth and of the relationships among all of the planet's organisms.

Names provide the key to organizing and storing all of the data accumulated about a living organism. An agreed-upon name is critical among scientists, especially when dealing with new pests or diseases.

More than a million distinct species of animals, plants and microbes have thus far been discovered, scientifically described and named. But scientists believe that this likely represents only five to 10 percent of the total number of species inhabiting the Earth.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

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Last Modified: 7/28/2004
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