FWD>True phylogenies

Richard McCourt rmccourt at CONDOR.DEPAUL.EDU
Fri Jul 28 12:38:09 CDT 1995


We can never know the true phylogeny of a group--or at least we can't
know that it is the true one.  But how is this different from any other
field of science?  Did Newton have the "true" theory of motion?  Did
Mendel have the "true" theory of inheritance, or have we learned a little
more since then?

Actually the back of one of my botany books does have the
answers--classification schemes and how they have changed over the
years.  It seems we've learned that fungi are not really plants (although
botanists still study them), and although this is of course not the true
phylogeny, it seems like an advance in our understanding of the natural
world.

Phylogeny reconstruction is intimately tied in with alpha taxonomy.  I
don't go out and collect organisms willy nilly; I collect algae (I'm a
paraphycologist), especially the green ones, and I use phylogenetic
studies to figure out what to study next.

Regarding alpha taxonomy and funding, that's a separate issue, and even
if NSF were to dump zillions of dollars on alpha taxonomists tomorrow
there would be bitter disputes over whether plants or small fuzzy mammals
should get more or less funding.  Let's remember that there are large
numbers of people who think alpha taxonomy and PR are both useless
endeavors, and I'm sure they are happy to see us fighting among ourselves.

Richard McCourt
DePaul University




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