Thomas G. Lammers lammers at FMPPR.FMNH.ORG
Wed May 21 06:33:19 CDT 1997

At 04:46 PM 05-20-97 -0700, William L Pratt wrote:

>Assuming we can locate the literature for it. And that appropriate
>literature exists. It is probably not chance that groups for which a
>reliable generic-level manual for a region exists undergo a sudden jump
>in published studies in that region. Vertebrate zoologists, except maybe
>Ichthyologists, have no real understanding of the problem, because
>fairly good species-level manuals exist even for most areas of the
>tropics. This gets them into trouble when they undertake a study
>involving inverts, because they tend to assume the existence of similar
>manuals, until they come up with a batch of insects and try to find
>someone to identify them.
>It is the lack of good identification literature that creates massive
>problems even in the North American temperate zone. I am an Orthopterist
>(a specialist in the crasshoppers, crickets, and related groups). I have
>no trouble at all identifying Diptera (flies), because there is an
>excellent manual available for the nearctic region. I have
>unsurmountable problems with most Homoptera (leaf-hoppers and such),
>because there are no such manuals. The botanists handle this much
>better: take a look at Gray's Manual of Botany (8th ed)(Fernald, 1950),
>outdated though it may be, or the new Jepson's Manual, Higher Plants of
>California (Hickman, 1993). A similar manual on insects of California,
>or the northeastern US & eastern Canada, could certainly carry the
>entire insect fauna to genus. There is a project to produce such
>manuals, at species level, for Coleoptera (beetles), but nothing else
>that I'm aware of. Maybe producing such manuals would be the project
>that would attract general support. There are certainly a lot of people
>doing biodiversity studies who'd cheeerfully mortgage their souls for

This was EXACTLY my point.  There are far too many parts of the world where
I can go and see interesting plants, but no one can tell me what they are.
Too many areas where there is no manual of the flora, or else it is so
outdated or incomplete as to be virtually worthless today.   Too many areas
from which specimens can only be identified  "b'guess and b'gosh", by
crawling through the herbarium to see what matches, playing up hunches, and
by trying to find revisions or monographs that include the group.

Being able to identify all the stuff around us should be Job One.
Vertebrate biologists by and large can do that (at least for tetrapods).  We
botanists and the entomologists are nowhere close.

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
voice mail: 312-922-9410 ext. 317

"The true test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do,
   but how we behave when we don't know what to do."

                                                  -- John Holt

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