Rare species

Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Tue Jul 29 08:29:46 CDT 1997

At 01:36 PM 07-29-97 +0100, Paul Selden wrote:

>Would anybody like to define what they consider the adjective 'rare' (as
>applied to a species) to mean? This term crops up more frequently nowadays,
>generally in pleas to public bodies to preserve habitats.
>I have always considered the term to be meaningless, since it covers
>species whose habitats are restricted geographically or ecologically (i.e.
>common where it occurs), or widespread but at low species numbers, and is
>possibly only really applicable to species close to extinction (but then
>this is normally due to the loss of habitat anyway).

I don't think it's possible to define it precisely.  For most field
botanists, it means a plant that, when you come across it, causes you to
say, "Wow!  There's something you don't see everyday!"

Seriously, frame of reference has a lot to do with it, as rarity (like
wealth) is relative.  To have any semblence of meaning, the word rare must
be qualified by some context:  "rare in Ohio"  "rare in North America"
"rare globally".

It's a general human attitude to relish those things which we see less
often.  If diamonds were as common as quartz, would anyone pay big $ for
them?    If the dandelion only grew atop Mt. Washington, nature-lovers would
make pilgrimages from miles around to see it.  Because it grows in every
lawn, they instead poison it or grub it out.  Botanical attention of "rare
species" is merely an extension of this seemingly ingrained attitude.

Thomas G. Lammers

Classification, Nomenclature, Phylogeny and Biogeography
of the Campanulaceae, s. lat.

Department of Botany
Field Museum of Natural History
Roosevelt Road at Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60605-2496 USA

e-mail:     lammers at fmppr.fmnh.org
voice mail: 312-922-9410 ext. 317

"Science is not a sacred cow.  Science is a horse.
  Don't worship it.  Feed it."
                          --Aubrey Eben

More information about the Taxacom mailing list