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I spent 3 years building a taxonomic database of plant specimens for the Missouri Botanical Gardens (http://www.tropicos.org/). Myself and two other programmers used a modern database and web pages to share the specimens with the research community. Last I looked there are over 3 million specimens included. Anyway I never got a straight answer as to why there is so much time, money and botanist's lives spent categorizing the earth's flora. What is the end goal here? I'm hoping there are professional scientists here that do taxonomic work that can chime in. Thanks.

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    $\begingroup$ Your question is too discussion oriented for the stackexchange format. The answer invariably will be "it depends whom you ask." I suggest looking at the broader impacts section of the grant that supported your work, which should answer the question "why does this matter?". $\endgroup$ – kmm Aug 24 '15 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a legitimate question. I am not a taxonomist but certainly one reason is to understand life species relatedness and their evolution. Why is that necessary? Well I guess the main goal here is to fully characterize our ecosystem but more precisely, and as an example, when a biologist starts to work on an organism knowing to whom he is related is a precious starting information as one might expect similarities between very close species (i.e. use previous research perform in that close relative to drive studies in the new organism). $\endgroup$ – cagliari2005 Aug 24 '15 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting, that makes sense. One of the other suggestions I had heard is that if they find a plant specimen closely related to a rare specimen that can cure an illness, the closely related specimen may deliver the same medicinal qualities. $\endgroup$ – Craig Aug 24 '15 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with kmm. Why do we spend so much time compiling and tabulating Baseball Statistics? Why did we spend so much time figuring out the nature of light, gases, metals, radioactivity, toxicity, bugs? Why in fact do anything other that chase after herds of elks and dig for roots and berries. Oh but wait, you need knowledge to know which ones are poisonous and which ones will provide you with additional calories when the hunters have had a bad time of it. $\endgroup$ – AMR Aug 24 '15 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ You have asked a question with the bias of "This is useless, prove me wrong." It would be a more reasonable question if you said "I am a programmer who worked on a taxonomic problem for 3 years but I did not get an understanding of the relevance of the work. I would like to gain a better understanding of the benefits, uses, and values to producing such taxonomical archives and are there shortfalls to this mode of study of natural systems." $\endgroup$ – AMR Aug 24 '15 at 20:40
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Biology is about observation and learning from nature. If you categorize the species, it helps you in quickly understand what the species is about, what are some of its common characteristics, phylogenetics, etc. It has applications not just in understanding evolution, but in population studies, ecology. Why do we give humans names? So we can find them quickly and easily and associate them with certain characteristics. It is the basic human nature of using patterns to quickly identify objects.

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