Becoming A Modern Marine Naturalist

Date:Oct 09, 2022    |  【 A  A  A 】

(Text by ZHANG Junlong,

Junlong was participating in an expedition on board a research vessel. Credit: Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

When you walk along the beach, do you marvel at the colorful, varied, and bizarre seashells? The first question that most likely occurs to you is: "What are these shells called?" According to an old proverb, "wisdom begins with putting the right name on a thing." To appreciate, use, and explore these shells, the fundamental step is to learn their names. Seashells belong to the vast and diverse group of invertebrates known as Mollusca. Without accurate taxonomic identification and distinction of the taxonomic status of the species, the organism will not be recognized and perceived correctly, and related scientific studies will lose their objectivity, comparability, and reproducibility. Naming and identifying the species of the object of study is a priority in biological studies. Furthermore, the classification of species according to their affinities is also an important part of the work of taxonomists. 

I am a molluscan taxonomist, also called a malacologist. An important aspect of my work is the discovery, description, and identification of mollusks, and this process is the basis of the scientific study of all species. I would like to refer to the work I am doing as modern natural history. This term takes into account the fact that I have to act as a naturalist to engage in collecting and sorting samples: while sampling on the beach or aboard research vessels on scientific ocean voyages, or while observing specimen collections, regardless of whether they are fresh live samples or historical specimens that have been preserved for hundreds of years. I enjoy fieldwork, which not only allows me to obtain samples, but also inspires me to think and learn from nature in a way that I cannot from a book, office, or laboratory.  

Taxonomy is an ancient discipline that studies the degree of similarity and difference between groups of organisms and elucidates their relationships, evolutionary processes, and patterns. New methodological and technological developments have not only challenged, but also invigorated modern taxonomy. Currently, we are using integrative taxonomy, synthetically incorporating multiple methods including morphology, genetics, anatomy, ontogeny, omics, and other biological information, such as gametes, habitat, and distribution, to delimit taxonomic boundaries, delineate species, reconstruct the phylogenetic relationships between species and explore the species dispersal pathways and evolutionary processes. 

Our understanding and knowledge of biodiversity are limited, especially in the marine realm, where there are still a large number of species that have not been accurately studied, or even found. My dream is to become a modern marine naturalist, studying, exploring, and protecting marine life. 

(Editor: ZHANG Yiyi) 

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