Reviewing taxonomic bias in a mega-diverse country: primary biodiversity data, cultural salience, and scientific interest of South African animals

J.J.A. Hugé, Fortunate Phaka, Louis Du Preez, Maarten P. M. Vanhove

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Taxonomic bias, resulting in some taxa receiving more attention than others, has been shown to persist throughout history. Such bias in primary biodiversity data needs to be addressed because the data are vital to environmental management. This study reviews taxonomic bias in South African primary biodiversity data obtained from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). The focus was specifically on animal classes, and regression analysis was used to assess the influence of scientific interest and cultural salience on taxonomic bias. A higher resolution analysis of the two explanatory variables' influence on taxonomic bias is conducted using a generalised linear model on a subset of herpetofaunal families from the focal classes. Furthermore, the potential effects of cultural salience and scientific interest on a taxon's extinction risk are investigated. The findings show that taxonomic bias in South Africa's primary biodiversity data has similarities with global scale taxonomic bias. Among animal classes, there is strong bias towards birds while classes such as Polychaeta and Maxillopoda are under-represented. Cultural salience has a stronger influence on taxonomic bias than scientific interest. It is, however, unclear how these explanatory variables may influence the extinction risk of taxa. We recommend that taxonomic bias can be reduced if primary biodiversity data collection has a range of targets that guide (but do not limit) accumulation of species occurrence records per habitat. Within this range, a lower target of species occurrence records accommodates species that are difficult to detect. The upper target means occurrence records for any species are less urgent but nonetheless useful and thus data collection efforts can focus on species with fewer occurrence records.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-49
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • TOOL
  • biodiversity hotspot
  • biomonitoring
  • conservation
  • surrogate species
  • taxonomic chauvinism
  • Biomonitoring
  • Conservation
  • Surrogate species
  • Taxonomic chauvinism
  • Biodiversity hotspot


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