Forwarded: Basic taxonomy

John Shuey Shueyi at AOL.COM
Sun Dec 10 18:36:11 CST 1995

This message was forwarded to Consbiol, and I thought it should be passes on
to this list for further pondering.  It almost reads like a parody, but I
fear it isn't.

not so pleased,
John Shuey

Date:          Thu, 7 Dec 1995 18:17:00 EST
Reply-to:      "Ecological Society of America: grants, jobs,
               news" <ECOLOG-L at UMDD.UMD.EDU>
From:          Boris Zeide <zeide at>
Subject:       Basic taxonomy
To:            Multiple recipients of list ECOLOG-L <ECOLOG-L at UMDD.UMD.EDU>

                        Basic taxonomy

     There are many ways to classify species. One of them is
paramount. We can live without knowing that sharks originated
prior to catfish or their Latin names. But ignorance of the
difference between these two species could be fatal. Imperative
to the survival of any species, including ours, is to distinguish
between: (1) species useful as sources of nutrients, clothing, or
fiber; (2) harmful species (these may be divided into
competitors, parasites, pathogens, and predators); and (3)
harmless species.

     This classification is known to and universally used by
every creature. A deer is afraid of humans and dogs, is attracted
to greenbriar vines and blueberry bushes, and is indifferent to
woodpeckers and ants. This behavior is adaptive. A deer possessed
by love of all creatures would soon be torn up by coyotes, or
killed first in a hunting season. In everyday life
environmentalists, as the rest of us, crush mosquitoes, call
exterminators to get rid of roaches or fleas, and visit doctors
in an attempt to exterminate some bacteria. Yet, there is an
eccentric split in their mentality. When they write books, they
profess unnatural love to every scrap of biodiversity.

     The mistake of the biodiversity movement is in the lumping
together of all species. It is morbid to worry about the welfare
of spirochetes. Harmful species should not be preserved,
conserved, or protected, but killed, destroyed, and eradicated,
as we are actually doing all the time. Every minute our immune
systems destroy millions of organisms. This loss of biodiversity
is our gain. Certainly, the elimination of mosquitoes would
disrupt some food chains and spoil a delicate web of complex
ecological relations. This is exactly what we need: to destroy
the food chain that draws blood out of us. As cultivated fields
show, we have to disrupt delicate webs and chains to direct the
flow of energy to our advantage. Such a disruption is
indispensable for our existence. Every species tries its best to
do the same. We differ only in being more successful than all

     Fortunately, ecosystems are pretty loose and flexible
arrangements. The very term "ecosystems" is an exaggeration. A
system means a set of coordinated parts that form a whole, such
as an animal body. There is no comparison between the precision
of a body and that of what would be better called eco-medley.
Yet, this forgiveness is limited. But abnormal love of every
scrap of biodiversity is not a solution. As with any fiction, it
hurts the cause of the environmental preservation.

          Certainly, the division of species is not clear-cut and
depends on circumstances. Trees are a hindrance in areas we
intend for planting corn, but are valuable elsewhere. Even
rattlesnakes may be useful, in a terrarium. The division changes
with age. The defenseless young of many animals associate the
first thing they see around with something infinitely good
(imprinting) and every other moving objects with harm. These
qualifications should not obscure the main fact: to exist we must
heed that classification. Depending on the situation we may
reassign a certain species, but always into one of the same three
classes. In some cases only ecological and economical research
can tell whether a species is useful or harmful. Our
extermination efforts should be commensurate with damage. We
might be convinced to tolerate a seemingly noxious species, if
its less obvious benefits are documented. The division of species
as good and bad may be old-fashioned and narrow-minded, but
without it there will be nobody to mind this or another fashion.

Boris Zeide
School of Forestry, University of Arkansas. Monticello, AR 71656.
Phone: 501-460-1648. Internet: zeide at

------------ End Forwarded Message -------------

More information about the Taxacom mailing list