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