species/subspecies query

Curtis Clark jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU
Thu Nov 16 08:30:41 CST 2000

At 05:03 AM 11/16/00, Don McAllister wrote:
>I empathize with this point of view.  In practical terms though, dollars to
>taxonomic research, the number of researchers and the number of new
>students is
>down. It is not a matter of half a dozen species whose status could be better
>established, but thousands and thousands.
>So yes, let's reach genetic exchange standards as high as we can with the
>resources we have.  But let's not knock those who do the best they can.

I have heard this view a lot recently on Taxacom, that it is more important
to classify the world's diversity than to work on limited detailed studies
of specific groups. Ignoring the "more" part, and the obvious political
undercurrents when positions and funding are limited, I agree that
cataloguing biodiversity is very important.

I also have to assume that the taxonomists who want to catalog biodiversity
believe that the units they catalog have some actual reality (otherwise,
their position is hard to support). So the question becomes, what is the
best way to deal with uncertain species boundaries.

I maintain that the best way is "thoughtful splitting": recognizing species
as distinct if there seems to be good evidence to do so. This view is based
on the observation that split species are obvious targets for lumping as
knowledge accumulates, but lumped species tend to obscure the differences
within and are less often reexamined.

The reproductive species concept of Mayr et al. in practice can work
against this: a case of hybridization is discovered, and two species are
lumped together. No detailed study of the extent or consequences of
hybridization is necessary. And the junior synonym becomes
bibliographically "extinct" in species lists.

So the care that I recommend, and that cannot possibly be applied to all of
biodiversity with the resources and time frame available, has the
beneficial effect of not causing us to cover up differences that may be
biologically significant until we have solid evidence of the value of our

Curtis Clark                  http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/
Biological Sciences Department             Voice: (909) 869-4062
California State Polytechnic University      FAX: (909) 869-4078
Pomona CA 91768-4032  USA                  jcclark at csupomona.edu

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