And another thing

Harvey E. Ballard, Jr. hballard at STUDENTS.WISC.EDU
Thu Oct 17 13:20:16 CDT 1996


With all the (superficial?) concern about the ever-increasing loss of
biodiversity and the decline of  solidly trained classical systematists who
can serve as authorities on diverse groups in the world's vanishing flora,
it also stands to reason that SOME OF US (i.e., US) have a moral
obligation, despite whatever else we may be doing, to take up the
responsibility to conduct classical systematic studies and produce the
monographs, floras, treatments and systematic studies that the rest of the
world will need in order to comprehend and at least initially categorize
the planet's biodiversity.  I've yet to meet a naturalist who can infer
species identifications in the field using a phylogenetic tree.  While I
might be extraordinarily interested in the phylogenetic relationships and
taxonomic "position" of the Mediterranean pansies, 99% of the folks who are
doing "field" taxonomy and, in effect, are also the prime movers in reserve
design and land conservation will find absolutely nothing useful in such
phylogenetic studies.  They are, in essence, a luxury given the desperate
urgency we should all feel in the biodiversity crisis.  I'm not saying that
phylogenetic studies are not invaluable and perhaps ultimately necessary as
yet another level of reevaluating the world's flora and providing order for
it.  I believe that.  But I also do not fool myself into recognizing that
much, MUCH more effort must be put into initially cataloging biodiversity
and SAVING it, so that we have the opportunity later to conduct
phylogenetic studies on the organisms that are still (hopefully) extant.
How many of our phylogenetic studies, after all, suffer severely from
inadequate taxon sampling as it is, and is not the extant world's flora and
fauna but an impoverished ghost of what it was even a few million years
ago?

When all is said and done, which is to say that all higher-level
phylogenetic work has been conducted to everyone's satisfaction twice over,
hopefully strictly molecular phylogenetic researchers will take up the yoke
of learning classical systematic methods to contribute to the biodiversity
cause in the form of monographic and other directly applicable pursuits.  I
dearly hope that there's something left to study then.

HB

---
Harvey E. Ballard, Jr.
Postdoctoral Researcher, USDA-ARS, Potato Systematics Labs
1575 Horticulture, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison WI 53706
(608) 262-0159
and
University of Wisconsin Herbarium
132 Birge, 430 Lincoln Drive
Madison WI 53706
(608) 262-2792




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