Species Enumeration (Biodiversity) or Phylogenetic Relationsh ip (Science) ==> Another problem

r.flowers r.flowers at FAMU.EDU
Tue Jul 24 23:08:13 CDT 2001

>>> "Barry M. OConnor" <bmoc at UMICH.EDU> 07/19 2:36 PM >>>

A colleague working on higher level phylogenetic studies involving a
very diverse, but taxonomically poorly studied group.  His proposed
methodology is to collect as many taxa as are available, identify them to
the lowest level possible (most of the species would presumably be
undescribed), obtain the relevant sequences, do the analysis and publish.
Voucher specimens of  the organisms sequenced would be deposited, but the
species would not be described.  My question is, is this becoming common
practice, and if so, are we really able to communicate without names?

No.  Your colleague will have a very nice tree which will be absolutely
useless to anyone trying to work with the actual organisms.  Kind of
reminds me of Francis Fitzgerald's description of the American Command in
Vietnam, "..revolving on it's own axis with no exit into reality."

  My colleague's
was that if he had to describe all the new species, he would never get
phylogenetic work done.

====================== Sorry, Barry, but that is another sad issue

While E. O. Wilson and others argue for the enumeration of species, to
complete the Global Biodiversity Map, etc., much of Systematics today
to say that goal is a waste of time and money, which should be and is
better spent on discovering the "Tree of Life"   And it seems if you
money from NSF, etc., then phylogenetic relationship are what you should

However premature and incomplete the resulting trees may be.  An interesting
socio-political investigation would be how NSF went from =
forward-looking funder of biodiversity workshops in the early 1990=B4s to
the dogmatic pusher of "cladocule-isim" of the present day.

 So, your colleague is with the majority here.

And many have said: Names are for communication, but for the vast
of those little insignificant invertebrates where is the need to
as nothing is known of them and they are of no known importance, etc.
for example, why was time and resources on naming mites that only you
interested in? So, you can talk to yourself?

Well, you can also try talking to the thousands of scientists, citizen
activists and just plain interested folks all over the Third World who
are vitally interested in the biodiversity of their countries, and =
extremely curious to know what is living around them, what their names are,
and what their life histories are.  And yes, their curiosity extends to
mites.  I just came back from several days at a remote field station in
western Ecuador.  I found an almost inexhaustable curiosity about the local
insects and invertebrates-including-mites from local farmers, their
children, conservation workers, and visiting agricultural scientists.
Oddly, nobody seemed particularly interested in what the insect=B4s
cladograms or gene sequences looked like.

This reflect another division of our science; that between those who
on groups whose species have been largely enumerated (the vertebrates,
higher flowering plants, etc.) and those who work on groups whose
are hardly known (insects, fungi, worms, etc.). Unfortunately, it is the
former who seem to define what "science" is and set the priorities.

In other words, "knowing more and more about less and less."

Oh, well ...

Thanks for bringing up the issue and framing it so well.

Wills Flowers
Quito, Ecuador
rflowers at mail.istal.com

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