Undue concern about morphospecies?

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Thu Jan 7 10:38:18 CST 1999

[was] Re: (no subject)

On Thu, 07 Jan 1999 09:03:56 -0800, Richard Jensen
<rjensen at saintmarys.edu> wrote:

> Subject: Re: "(morpho)" species?
> I find the concerns about using morphospecies for biodiversity studies
> rather amusing and interesting.  I would like to ask, perhaps a naive
> question, What is the alternative?

Your points (about lack of alternatives) are of course fine and
well-taken. My point, however, was not intended to amuse, so much as to
highlight the issue that even the use morphospecies (in addition to
those other levels of categories discussed earlier) has its problems,
and that the diversity studies must draw conclusions which recognize and
accomodate those problems ("truths").

> ...  Interestingly, when I asked them how they determined which
> specimens they used to identify their samples, they had to admit that
> they used a morphological criterion to establish the pooled samples
> for their analyses.

Hopefully, they also addresses what they felt were the consequences of
"pooling" data of somewhat unknown meaning/content... ?

> I will be the first to admit that the morphospecies is not necessarily
> the best concept to use for evolutionary studies, but when one is
> conducting biodiversity surveys, I see little in the way of a
> *practical* alternative.

Yes, "practicality" looms large here (mostly thanks to our concerns to
protect the environment). The unamusing issue is to make sure that those
who must use biodiversity surveys (the "consumers" of the products, if
you will) do so with adequate appreciation of what it means to be using
possibly "not the best concept". From the perspective of gaining
environmental protection, maybe it does mean little. On the other

I think it is even more important to be prepared to address this issue
(of uncertainty about what those observed units ("morphospecies") really
mean in a diversity study or survey) when the study/survey is being
challenged by those "consumers" whose goal it is to discredit the
studies/surveys so that commerce and industry can progress unfettered by
concerns for environmental protection, especially ESA (in the U.S., for
example), "nonsense" and "hassle", as they seem to perceive it.


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