modern systematics and permanent specimens

Joseph E. Laferriere josephl at CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU
Fri Jul 26 09:00:25 CDT 1996

   Someone on the Taxacom mailing list commented about non-systematists
not paying enough attention to scientific names as we think they should.
Examples were one biochemist who said he did not know and did not care
what the "S." in "S. cerevisiae" stood for, and a physiologist referring
to "Drosophila" without bothering to figure out which species s/he was
dealing with.
   I must say that I have seen systematists make similar oversights within
their own field. Most molecular systematists have enough sense to make
permanent specimens representing the terminal taxa they are investigating,
but I have seen a few who did not. They will publish elaborate cladograms
and detailed analyses thereof, but if you try to determine which organisms
are represented, it is nearly impossible without permanent specimens.
What, then, is the point of doing the analyses?
    I remember trying to make this point to the dean when I was acting
herbarium director at Washington State University. Doug Soltis's molecular
systematics lab upstairs drew in large amounts of grant money, but not the
herbarium. Thus the herbarium received low budgetary priority. Doug and I
pleaded with the dean, saying that even high-tech molecular systematists
need a herbarium as much as more traditional botanists.
   Here at the University of Arizona, another dean several years ago
decided to close the herbarium and store all the specimens in boxes in
the back of the university's museum. He was stunned by how many protests
he received.

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