Use of higher taxonomic groups = use species?

Jon Norenburg norenbur at ONYX.SI.EDU
Thu Nov 16 09:24:56 CST 2000

At 12:27 AM -0600 11/16/00, Gabriel A. Eickhoff wrote:
>Let me pose you a question,
>Must we treat all species as unique in community ecology, or can we get the
>same understanding by studying higher taxonomic groups?

As usual, it is the question you ask and the taxon of interest that
determines how "successfully" this can be done--even then, the
ecologist and taxon specialist may not agree on the definition of
success. The problem is that you still must have a good idea about
the biological/ecological property in question for each or most of
the species you propose to lump. For instance, with regard to feeding
guilds, I can say with reasonable confidence that in one particular
order of my group of worms, Nemertea, most of the species are
predators; I can predict that most of those in a particular habitat
feed on crustaceans, whereas they may feed on worms or crustaceans in
another habitat; but, I also know that most are specialist predators
and that some common species do not follow the generalizations. The
real problem for ecologists is that most will be unable to
distinguish members of this one order from the other two orders,
which include predators, opportunists, and detritivores. Ergo,
specialized knowledge still is necessary, in my view, to address
questions of diet in these worms; lumping nemerteans as a phylum is a
waste of time; ignoring them overlooks some of the most voracious
predators in some systems.
Dr. Jon L. Norenburg
Department of Invertebrate Zoology
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC  20560-0163

fax 202-357-3043
e-mail: norenbur at

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