New Funding Scheme for Systematics and Taxonomy

A new funding scheme aims to revive research in systematics and taxonomy, a crucial field which has struggled somewhat in recent years. The scheme, announced by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will provide £750,000 over three years to fund research. The aim is to enable systematics biologists and taxonomists to develop proposals to compete for the councils’ larger pots of blue-skies funding.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has conducted three inquiries into the area in the past 15 years, highlighting a critical decline owing to a lack of funding and a low number of researchers. Its last report, published in August 2008, concludes that a lack of professional taxonomic expertise is threatening Britain’s ability to conserve its biodiversity, protect endangered species and measure the effects of climate change. Last month, the BBSRC’s Independent Bioscience Skills and Careers Strategy Panel described systematics and taxonomy as a “strategically important and vulnerable” niche. It said the council had spent only £15.3 million of its roughly £400 million budget in the area in 2007-08, and that less than 1 per cent of this went on taxonomy research, with the rest going to systematics.

The new scheme, called SynTax, will see £250,000 made available every year for three years to fund small, short-term grants. The size of the grants, which must have a “substantial” systematic or taxonomic component, will range from £5,000 to £30,000 and run for up to two years. They will enable preliminary research and early proof-of-principle experiments that will later form the basis of responsive-mode (blue-skies) applications to the BBSRC or NERC.

SynTax supersedes the Collaborative Systematics (CoSyst) scheme. However, its annual funding level is more than triple its predecessor’s £75,000 a year. The scheme will be administered by the Linnean Society and the Systematics Association. SynTax calls are annual, with the first open until the end of January.

The SynTax website can be found here.