In which taxa are amateurs most able to make taxonomic discoveries?

Large and distinctive organisms are naturally the most easily discovered, described, and classified, and so as taxonomy progresses, the taxonomic work that remains to be completed is increasingly inaccessible to amateur naturalists. Taxonomists today often need to rely upon equipment and techniques such as DNA sequencing, advanced microscopy, and asceptic culture.

Of course, this inaccessibility is more true of some taxa (e.g. bacteria, microfungi, viruses) than others, such as those in neglected locations, with morphological distinctions between species, and with all taxonomically relevant features large enough to be seen by eye or basic light microscopy.

So I can better focus my own observing when in nature, I would appreciate to learn of some suggested taxa and locations where it’s still possible to make taxonomically interesting findings without being specifically equipped for advanced techniques. For example, I suspect tropical insects is one answer that satisfies my question.

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For Australia, spiders for sure. Stacks and stacks of undescribed/undiscovered things that are observable in even urban environments

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For Australia actually pretty much any invertebrate, there’re undescribed orthoptera and other big insects, so you can guess what’s the situation with small ones. Likely worms fit it too and more, depending on what you have other than camera.

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It doesn’t take much to find a new species in the Middle East. I believe there are even known undescribed vertebrates in some areas.

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Insects, and in particular gall-forming insects. There are MANY undescribed species, and all it really takes is a willingness to bring home some galled plants and see what eventually comes out. California is one of the more well-documented regions, yet Russo’s Plant Galls of the Western US mentions a lot of undescribed species, and if you go out looking you’ll find quite a few nobody has ever even mentioned before.

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Terrestrial gastropods anywhere.

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Lichen are a good bet. I just read about a guy in Ohio who from 2016 to 2020, while he was a botany student, started collecting lichens. He collected about 6000 specimens for the university herbarium, of which he could identify about 400 to species already known from Ohio, over 100 to be known species but never before recorded in Ohio, plus several species new to science entirely.
So any of us could just have looked at those colorful patches growing on trees and rocks and found a few new species, even in one of the over-explored areas like the US :)

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There seems to be a lot left to complete for minute wasps, which are found in many locations and can be viewed or photographed with a microscope.

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As someone who lives in the midwestern US and has recently taken an interest in rare and/or undiscovered species, this is very nice to hear! It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming science has almost everything figured out. It’s reassuring sometimes to be reminded that there’s more to explore, thank you for sharing! Anyone else here know of any other taxonomic groups worth looking into from that area?

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Milipedes are the ones. However their classification key is male gonopod on the abdomen (not sure if it is the right word but the side facing to the ground) so it might be hard to find and record a milipede in a way it is identifiable to species level.
Terrestrial land snails- actually quite a lot are already described but in some locations (e.g New Zealand, South East Asia, Africa, Brazil) there are still thousands of undescribed ones left. However, again, you need very good photos plus dissection plus often sequencing of DNA to tell them to species level. I think other interesting ones would be bryozoans and mites.

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I have heard of that. Also there are not many research going on molluscs in the Middle East.

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I don’t have the equipment to confirm that a fungus is a new species, but I have teamed up with a mycologist in my area. I collect and dry samples of fungi I find on my property and at the nature preserve nearby. He examines the spores under a microscope for me and submits the dried specimens to a herbarium collection. I also sent a fresh specimen to a researcher in Oregon (I’m in Texas) who was interested in finding new species in the genus that I had observed. He saw my observation on iNaturalist and contacted me.

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It’s called the ventral side.) vs. the dorsal

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Thank you!

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https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/just-how-effective-is-using-beetle-aedeagi-for-precise-identifications-and-why/22771/7

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What an exciting topic. You haven’t even touched the many freshwater and marine species available to anyone with a kayak or small boat and a plankton net. I’ve been contacted from time to time by researchers about collecting a particular organism of interest, but I think there is way more room for collaboration between researchers and iNaturalists in the field, if the researchers realized it. (Of course proper permits must be secured, and there need to be guards against commercial harvesting.)

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It’s especially hard to photograph when they tend to curl up into a tight pinwheel upon being disturbed!

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Leaf miners, often moths and flies. I’ve been paying attention to them for about a year and already I’ve found a couple right here in the US that Charlie Eiseman, ceiseman, notes are an undescribed species. It seems there’s lots to discover. They are everywhere and don’t require special equipment or travel–similar to the notes about gall-forming insects above.

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I’m not a taxonomist, but from the taxonomic papers I have read it seems fairly difficult to visually describe a new species from several observations in one area. Most of the revisions I’ve seen (mostly within Noctuidae) involve looking at specimens from all different places to establish range, variation, etc. I’m not trying to discourage anyone, but if someone finds a new micro wasp they would need to research all wasps in the area before being able to confirm a new species. Then again, that may be what revision is all about. Name it, and if it turns out to be described by someone else, the name changes. At least that’s my understanding.

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Yes, iNaturalists need to understand that recognizing and describing a new species is a highly technical procedure and their best bet is to team up with a professional taxonomist in that field who has experience with describing and publishing new species in the scientific literature. That kind of collaboration can be very productive, with the iNaturalist getting to do the fun stuff!

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