Which Revolution?

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Thu Oct 17 10:36:15 CDT 1996

Hugh D. Wilson wrote:
> No opposition to cladistics, as a research enterprise, intended.
> However, it seems to me that problems relating to *biodiversity* are
> pressing/immediate and, in terms of priorities, dealing with these
> requires hard data and "doing" as opposed to "trying".  The "doing"
> in this case is creating/developing synonymized biotic checklists
> that represent real circumscriptions of real taxa for a given
> geographic area with - perhaps the hard part - linkage to material
> housed in extant biodiversity collections.  This activity requires
> 'atomizing' of the sort mentioned at the start of this thread.  It
> does not require answers to questions relating to phyletic polarity
> or 'lineage' relationships, although 'real' circumscriptions (and
> 'real' taxa) can change as answers to these questions become
> available.
> If the systematics community is to contribute data that helps deal
> with various biodiversity problems, should we provide gene trees
> that place the Apiaceae (Carrot Family) in the Asteridae (which is
> interesting and available) or county-level mapping for US FWS-listed
> species of the Apiaceae (which is useful and not available)?

Despite my having difficulty reading and responding to e-mail (using an
e-mail account in Illinois via Netscape running on a PC in Brazil isn't
very efficient), I find this posting harkens back to older discussions
about the disappearance of taxonomic expertise, and strongly second
Hugh's sentiments - It seems the emphasis in the systematics community
these days is on supraspecific taxonomy, while all the people who
actually know species-level taxonomy are retiring, dying, or simply
losing their positions. This work is the *foundation* of systematics, and
I find it tragic that the major systematic institutions find it so hard
to generate support for this work, simply because it generates so little
overhead, and looks so pitiful on a grant proposal ("This project
requires only a microscope, a computer, travel money, and postage. We
have the two former pieces of equipment, all we need is the latter plus
salary"). Work at the species level can be about as easy and cheap as is
conceivable, but this often seems to be more of a drawback than a
benefit, in a climate where a researcher is judged by how large his
grants are, not what he accomplishes. I continue to hope that this
climate, too, will change globally, and soon.
Douglas Yanega
Depto. Biol. Geral
Univ. Fed. de Minas Gerais
Belo Horizonte, Brazil

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