A return-on-investment approach for prioritization of rigorous taxonomic research needed to inform responses to the biodiversity crisis

PLoS Biol. 2021 Jun 1;19(6):e3001210. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001210. eCollection 2021 Jun.


Global biodiversity loss is a profound consequence of human activity. Disturbingly, biodiversity loss is greater than realized because of the unknown number of undocumented species. Conservation fundamentally relies on taxonomic recognition of species, but only a fraction of biodiversity is described. Here, we provide a new quantitative approach for prioritizing rigorous taxonomic research for conservation. We implement this approach in a highly diverse vertebrate group-Australian lizards and snakes. Of 870 species assessed, we identified 282 (32.4%) with taxonomic uncertainty, of which 17.6% likely comprise undescribed species of conservation concern. We identify 24 species in need of immediate taxonomic attention to facilitate conservation. Using a broadly applicable return-on-investment framework, we demonstrate the importance of prioritizing the fundamental work of identifying species before they are lost.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Biodiversity*
  • Classification*
  • Lizards / classification
  • Research*
  • Snakes / classification

Grants and funding

JM undertook this work supported by an Australian Fulbright Commission scholarship; S.S. received funding support to undertake research that allowed assessment in the current study from the NSF (DBI-1519732). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.