Status of plant systematics

James Francis Lyons-Weiler weiler at ERS.UNR.EDU
Thu Aug 28 07:51:42 CDT 1997

On Thu, 28 Aug 1997, Doug Yanega wrote:

>         Basically, all I'm trying to say is that while I fully agree that
> molecular techniques have great potential to help us resolve higher-level
> classification, I think there are some significant potential problems in
> taking it down to the species level. I'm not sure I see how we can ever
> satisfactorily integrate molecular systematics with alpha taxonomy unless
> we completely rethink our concepts of how taxa are defined, in both theory
> and practice.
>         A final question for Tom and others on this thread: you state that
> the best young plant systematists know how to integrate ALL the evidence in
> their analyses, and this is reassuring for the future of systematics in
> general - but are these promising young folks committed to doing *alpha*
> systematics? Are they familiar with the nuances of nomenclature, type
> designation, and the like? If not, then maybe the statements as to
> "endangered" status need to be qualified as to which *type* of systematic
> research is imperiled? It might not be a concern if we were satisfied that
> we had defined and named every species on earth adequately already, but we
> are a long way from that goal, and it's obviously going to be harder to
> make progress if alpha taxonomy gets less and less support. Frankly, I'm
> still more than a little worried, and not just for botany.

Does anyone know the answer to this question?

What have the International Congresses done in the way of articles to
their codes to allow the science to evolve with technology?

Culture always lags behind the development of new technology, and when it
is offered to a polarized community, a consensus is unlikely.  Science by
consensus (general agreement) can be slow.  What is needed is a dynamic
system of knowledge - one that is allowed to grow for a decade, and then
two or three years spent on intensive, collaborative review.  There needs
to be a rhythm and pulse to rhyme and reason. We also need
to remove the illusion that career development is tied exclusively to
overthrowing existing hypotheses and making sure that yours is held out;
systematics is more like constructing the language of biology than
it is experimental science (which means it is more important in some
ways). Of course, there are a finite number of big
questions, so ultimately, at least the perception that molecular alpha
taxonomy is the way to go may be adopted (I tend to find the process
questions at the genus, species, and population level more intrinsically
interesting anyway).

Cheers to Bill Eddie on a truly memorable soundbite.  In more theoretical
terms, I suppose we have also learned some algebra:

DNA + PCR = PhD                         (1)

James Lyons-Weiler

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