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Parataxonomy is the use of less qualified assistance to, or replacement of, taxonomists in the practice and science of classification.

Parataxonomy may be used to improve taxonomic efficiency by enabling more expert taxonomists to restrict their activity to the tasks that require their specialist knowledge and skills, typically by undertaking basic sorting of collected specimens.

Generally parataxonomists work in the field, sorting collected samples into recognizable taxonomic units (RTUs) based on easily recognised features. The process can be used alone for rapid assessment of biodiversity.[1] This process is obviously prone to error depending on the sample, the sorter and the species, therefore quantitative studies based on parataxonomic processes may be unreliable[2] and is therefore controversial.[3]

The term is attributed to Daniel Janzen who used it to describe the role of assistants working in INBio in Costa Rica.[4]


  1. ^ Oliver, I.; Beattie, A. J. (1993). "A Possible Method for the Rapid Assessment of Biodiversity". Conservation Biology. 7 (3): 562–568. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.1993.07030562.x. 
  2. ^ Krell, Frank-Thorsten (2004). "Parataxonomy vs. taxonomy in biodiversity studies – pitfalls and applicability of 'morphospecies' sorting" (PDF). Biodiversity and Conservation. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. 13 (4): 795–812. doi:10.1023/B:BIOC.0000011727.53780.63. 
  3. ^ Goldstein, Paul Z. (April 1997). "How many things are there? A Reply to Oliver and Beattie, Beattie and Oliver, Oliver and Beattie, and Oliver and Beattie". Conservation Biology. Blackwell. 11 (2): 571–574. JSTOR 2387635. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1739.1997.96119.x. 
  4. ^ Janzen, Daniel H. (1991). "How to save tropical biodiversity". American Entomologist. 37: 159–171. 

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