Morphotyping

Doug Yanega dyanega at MONO.ICB.UFMG.BR
Wed May 21 16:02:58 CDT 1997


Mike Ivie wrote:

>I think there are too many people out there hiding in museums, who think
>that the goals and values of our community are universal and preeminent.
>
>For many land management decisions, it would be a stupid idea to wait
>until the systematists got their act together and had everything
>properly named.  I will give an example.
[snip]
>Now, it turns out that we were in a practically
>unstudied part of south-central Madagascar, and even though the project
>paid for a full set of Fauna d'Madagascar and other literature, we
>couldn't name MOST of the morphospecies.  Even the ants, which have been
>under study at the MCZ for years, were mostly unnamed.

And you don't see this as precisely the sort of situation that indicates
that we need MORE funding for taxonomy? Besides which, you make it clear
here that a *legitimate attempt* was made to GET names for all of the
species, and I think what we are concerned with is people who are NOT
making this attempt, and simply skipping straight to the morphospecies
approach *directly*, without even trying to get a taxonomist involved.

>How can any of us argue that we
>should have waited until all the species could be named properly?  It
>simply isn't important to the question at hand!

In that respect, your example was not really ideal - we're worried about
cases where taxonomy *IS* important, but is simply ignored. If taxonomy is
NEVER important to ANY questions outside museums, as you seem to suggest,
then maybe all us taxonomists should just shoot ourselves in the head, burn
down the museums, and get it over with now.
        Let me put it this way: if this project had instead been an insect
community ecology project, would you have any qualms about funding such a
project if there was no money in the budget to get material identified?
Moreover, if the bottom line is always going to be "We can't afford to wait
for someone to put real names on things", is this not a vicious circle?
Think for just a second about it: (1) "Why do we have to wait so long for
real names?" (2) "Because there aren't enough taxonomists, and the few that
exist are swamped (we ARE asking them, after all, to just drop what they're
doing and ID our stuff for free)" (3) "Why aren't there enough
taxonomists?" (4) "Because no one is willing to wait such a long time for
real names, so there is no support for taxonomy". If this circle can't be
broken, then we're doomed, as things will only continue to get worse.

>Yes, the project required competent systematists to conduct it.  Yes,
>there will be errors in the morphospecies concepts.  Yes, it would be
>nice to have been able to use manuals, but GET REAL!

I understand what you are saying, and certainly this applies to the case
you give BUT...if "getting real" means thinking an absence of adequate
identification resources is perfectly acceptable - if it means that we
should shrug our shoulders and say "There's no point in describing any more
species, let's just assume we've named enough of them to get along, and
when we don't know we can just fake it" - if it means abandoning support
for taxonomy altogether, this doesn't seem like a pleasant future for us,
does it? Why, precisely, shouldn't "getting real" involve people being
willing to either PAY for some taxonomists *full-time*, or be willing to
WAIT longer? There has to be a solution.

Sincerely,

Doug Yanega    Depto. de Biologia Geral, Instituto de Ciencias Biologicas,
Univ. Fed. de Minas Gerais, Cx.P. 486, 30.161-970 Belo Horizonte, MG   BRAZIL
phone: 031-448-1223, fax: 031-44-5481  (from U.S., prefix 011-55)
                  http://www.icb.ufmg.br/~dyanega/
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82




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