The accelerating loss of biological diversity in the world, through habitat destruction, pollution, and ecosystem fragmentation, has been accompanied by a loss of taxonomic experts who are trained to discover, identify, describe, and classify the world's organismal diversity. Retirement of taxonomic specialists, shifts in academic recruitment and staffing, and reductions in graduate training have conjoined to impede biodiversity research and conservation, particularly on large but poorly known groups such as bacteria, fungi, protists, and numerous marine and terrestrial invertebrates.
Vast numbers of species in understudied "invisible" groups constitute critical elements of food chains and ecosystems, both aquatic and terrestrial, but the high proportion of unrecognized species in these groups limits research and progress in many areas of biology and conservation. The problem of diminishing taxonomic expertise was highlighted by the National Science Board in their 1989 report on the "Loss of Biological Diversity: A Global Crisis Requiring International Solutions" (NSB 89-171) which inspired the National Science Foundation in 1994 to initiate the first PEET Special Competition, to support research on the taxonomy of poorly known groups of organisms, to train new taxonomic experts, and to encourage development and use of web-accessible taxonomic resources and products.
Four PEET programs have a home at The Field Museum: