South Africa is home to rich and diverse flora and fauna with over 95 000 plant and animal species. Classifying species can help build information about species groups, determine endangered and invasive species as well as plays a crucial role in understanding how species respond to environmental change such as climate variation. These insights and knowledge inform decision-making and conservation strategies. Taxonomy is the science of discovering, describing and classifying species based on their biological structure, origin and behaviour.

Taxonomists collect and examine living organisms such as plants, animals, fossils, fungi and micro-organism species. They identify, name and organise specimens into classifications according to morphological, behavioural, genetic and biochemical characteristics. They also explore how species relate to other species and how they fit into their ecosystems. If a specimen does not conform to a preidentified group, they are considered new and are formally described and reported on. Taxonomists also sketch and write detailed species descriptions and report their findings in publications.

Taxonomists spend time collecting specimens in the field or studying preserved species in herbariums or museums, returning to a laboratory or office to assess collections. They can work with curators, biologists and other specialists when classifying species.


Taxonomists require a comprehensive knowledge of biology and the ability to use varied classification techniques such as DNA sequencing. They will also benefit from:

  • Strong observation and keen attention to detail
  • Competence in research and field and laboratory processes
  • Ability to organise and work with large data sets
  • Good verbal and written communication and presentation skills


Study the development aspects and life processes of specimens

Examine the internal components and external factors impacting species

Identify, classify and record species into accessible catalogues

Compose scientific reports and maintain informational databases


B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. in Biological Sciences specialising in Botany or Zoology at all universities

B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. in Marine Biology at UCT and UKZN

B.Sc., B.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc. in Microbiology at all universities


National, provincial and local government.

Aquariums, museums and herbariums.

Research institutions.

Environmental consultancies.

Private agricultural companies.

Related career paths