Rich Brown's response

Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D. mivie at MONTANA.EDU
Thu May 22 10:09:09 CDT 1997

Rich Brown's argument actually is another excellent example of why
systematists should become engaged in ecological and biodiversity work
that does not have time for perfect nomenclature, and supports my
feelings (even if my arguments are not clear):

Richard L. Brown wrote:
> Let's take a real example involving the building of a 4-lane bypass (US 45)
> around Crawford, smack dab in the middle of the Blackbelt, which includes
> both prairie and oak-hickory remnants, the prairies including many plants
> not occurring elsewhere in MS and the oak-hickory forest including several
> localized species.
> An ecologist is contracted to recommend placement of the by-pass, and he
> uses macrolepidoptera (moths) to estimate diversity because they can be
> easily separated to morphospecies. He finds 230 morphospecies
> (Shannon-Wiener H = 4.09; not that the ecologist would use this measure) of
> macrolepidoptera in the prairie and 301 morphospecies (H = 4.42) in the
> forest.  Which of the two areas, prairie or forest, would the ecologist
> recommend for highway placement without any knowledge of species
> identities?

First, if (s)he were any good,(s)he would say there is not enough
information to answer the given question at this point.  Remember, all
questions must be appropriately formulated to the data collected.  We
read on..

> The taxonomist, who gets the moths and identifies them (which allows for
> retrieval of published and unpublished data), finds that there are 14 new
> species, two of which are endemic, in the prairie as well as 25 species
> with distributions disjunct from the Great Plains.  In contrast, the forest
> has a few "localized" species but no endemics or disjuncts.  Which of the
> two areas would the taxonomist recommend for highway placement?

To be appropriate to this argument, I assume that before you made such a
recommendation you made sure that all the new species had validly
published names, and that all the taxa had been recently and
phylogenetically revised, checking everyone else's collections.
Further, you would collect enough in all similar areas in surrounding
states to be SURE the 2 "endemics" are REALLY endemic.  If not, you too
are using morphospecies and temporary taxonomy, which was what I was
defending from posters earlier in this discussion (we must keep on

I find that your temporary taxonomy and data are indeed sufficient to
make a recommendation, and predict that if you were to require the level
of nomenclatural and phylogenetic certainty called for in earlier
messages, your data would be ignored, because the highway would be
long-since placed and built before you could deliver it, even with
sufficient funding.

You are lucky that this problem occured in an area with a well-know (if
trophically narrow) biodiverse group. But, we both know that if you had
tried to do the same study in rural Belize, central Australia, or
southern Utah, you would have had to rely far more on morphospecies and
temporary taxonomy.  This does not invalidate the technique, which is my

> I believe that ecologists have led us down a rosy path, i.e., maximum
> species diversity (with its myriad measurements) is most important.  It is
> time for taxonomists to surplant this ecological paradigm of species
> diversity with uniqueness, and only with species identifications and
> retrieval ability can we come close to estimating uniqueness.  Only
> problem, and one the ecologists' can't live with, is that you can't count
> uniqueness.

This is the central reason for systematists to PARTICIPATE in temporary
taxonomy work.  If we don't the ecologists will just go do it anyway,
and do it BADLY.  In all things there is good work and bad work.
Remember, we are still fighting the community ecologists who want to
report data at the ORDER level, with all the species dumped together.
If we are to convince ecologists of our viewpoint on uniqueness,
species-level values, etc., we must be in the game and demonstrating,
not complaining in the back of the museum.  The only way we will get the
funding, respect and recognition we crave to be contributing often, and
well, so that we demonstrate our value.  However, we must also bend
some, and deal with temporal issues that some of us don't want to do.  I
know (prior personal knowledge) that Rich Brown does engage, and does it
well.  We all should.

Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D.          |
Associate Professor and Curator |   Us   Them    Other
Department of Entomology        |    \     /      /
Montana State University        |     \   /      /
Bozeman, MT 59717-3020          |      \ /      /
USA                             |       \      /
                                |        \    /
Phone: (406) 994-4610           |         \  /
FAX:   (406) 994-6029           |          \/
e-mail: mivie at       |  "We have more in common
                                |      than we think"


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