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Because plants and animals are threatened by human activities all over the world there is great demand for better ecological management. Unfortunately, this is severely impeded by the large biological knowledge deficit. For example, faunas are often poorly described and catalogued with possibly 90% of species being undescribed. Not only is there a need to promote taxonomic studies, but there is also the imperative of making taxonomic information accessible to non-specialists.
Difficulties in identification (particularly invertebrates) often make studies in ecology, conservation or environmental impact incomplete. Studies that include organisms identified at order or family level give little indication of species diversity. But these groups often provide the basic framework of whatever ecological system is under threat.
Crustaceans are particularly useful in aquatic environmental studies for several reasons. They are diverse and abundant in many habitats, play important roles in ecosystem processes, are often good indicators of stressed/polluted conditions, are relatively amenable to life history studies and frequently have commercial and cultural significance. They do, however, suffer the following difficulty. At the moment, identification of crustaceans by non-experts is extremely difficult and time-consuming. Descriptive literature (including dichotomous keys) is often scattered and difficult to find. Terminology is jingoistic and often varies from one crustacean group to another. A non-expert, who wants to use crustaceans in his work must either, pay a taxonomist to identify his crustaceans or try to do the identifications himself. The problems are that there are not many experts and all of them are over committed and trying to identify without expert help is inefficient and often leads to inaccurate or inadequate identifications.
We think that if crustaceans were easier to identify and to learn about, then they would be used more often in survey work, in ecological studies and by young taxonomists. We also think that if they could be identified more efficiently and more accurately, then the quality of all studies using these animals would be greatly enhanced.