modern systematics and permanent specimens

Jerry Bricker lcjbrick at ANTELOPE.WCC.EDU
Sat Jul 27 19:37:35 CDT 1996

> > >...   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?....
> >

The problem isn't limited to the molecular types.  I recall my initial
shock at learning that the bulk of photosynthesis research is done on
supermarket variety spinach.  An episode comes to mind concerning when I
was a grad student and working as a TA for the general botany course.  I
stopped by the lead professor's lab on some type of errand and witnessed
the latest set of samples being unloaded from a shopping bag.  I made
the mistake of commenting that I thought that raising spinach in the
greenhouse under
controlled conditions with routine preservation of voucher specimens
would produce more reliable and repeatable results.  I got a look
that could've curdled milk!  Needless to say, my suggestion made little
impression and plant physiologists the world over still make a trip to
the local supermarket when in need of research material.  And they say
that taxonomy isn't a science!  Go figure.

It is clear that the systematics community must be continue to be
vigilant in informing the rest of the life science community of their
value.  As an example, the first lab in my general ecology course is
dedicated to the methods of collecting and preserving plant specimens.  I
try to drill into my student's heads that any ecological study must have a
companion set of voucher specimens.  I like the previous statement posted
on TAXACOM "no
voucher, no data."  I plan to use that phrase to the
point that it becomes a cliche this fall semester.


Jerry Bricker

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