"arcane" rules/was gender of -opsis

Fri Aug 23 18:26:30 CDT 2002

At 01:59 PM 8/20/02 -1000, Richard Pyle wrote:
> > >with the primary goal being to streamline the process without
> > >compromising the integrity of the information.
> >
> > and/or to (1) streamline the processes of preserving the biodiversity
> > itself and
> >
> > (2) collect enough specimens of existing global biodiversity in an
> > organized manner so that future analysts will have optimal amounts of
> > info., other than fossils, to analyze, nomenclatorially, genetically, and
> > otherwise.
>I'm not sure you realize how passionately I agree with you on this!  My
>initial post was about ICZN Code & Nomenclature issues, but on the much
>larger issue of long-term preservation of biodiversity, I think the value of
>carefully preserved specimens is grossly underappreciated.
>In my discussions elsewhere pertaining to creating a global inventory of
>life on Earth (e.g., All-Species Inventory), I have maintained (and feel
>that I can defend) the idea that, given a choice between collecting and
>preserving samples of 75% of Earth's "species" (by whatever definition), all
>of which are fully named, documented, vouchered, and
>cladistically/systematically placed within the Tree of Life with high
>confidence; versus collecting and preserving representatives of nearly 100%
>of Earth's species, only 50% (or even 25%) of which are so documented; the
>latter represents the greater contribution to future humanity and long-term
>biodiversity preservation.
>Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive alternatives, because in order
>to achieve confidence that our collected samples are actually approaching
>the representation of 100% of species, we'll need to be understanding the
>evolutionary context of the ones we've already got.
>The point is a more abstract one; which basically boils down to the
>potential future value of having captured the broadest diversity of
>sequencable DNA diversity, before extinction beats us to it.
> > I submit that the most important information persistence, quantitatively
> > and qualitatively, is live biodiversity persistence.
>Therein lies a fundamental question, that as yet has not been answered (to
>my satisfaction, at least).  In the sentence above, you note "live
>biodiversity" -- implying the preservation of living organisms, presumably
>via conservation of their natural habitat.  In your point 2 above, however,
>you are referring to collected specimens (which usually means they are no
>longer among the living, but rather are represented as carefully preserved
>organisms or tissue samples in Museums and other natural history

Yes, I was intentionally referring to preservation in natural habitats and
as collected specimens as separate high priorities.  I still believe
preserving natural ecosystems is the highest of all.  Your analogy below is
very stimulating and I will try to respond intelligently below.

>This is representative of the more general question of which is more
>important to the long-term survival of Earth's biodiversity:
>conserving/protecting natural habitat, or completing comprehensive species
>inventories?  Nobody would argue that conserving the natural habitat is not
>the superior means of capturing the most meaningful aspects of
>biodiversity -- which goes well beyond DNA sequences to include community
>structure, ecological interactions, etc.  The question has more to do with
>striking a balance for short-term preservation, versus long-term
>preservation; given limited resources and the predicted inevitability of
>continued extinction on a global scale.
>I'll briefly summarize the metaphor that I use to illustrate this issue:
>Imagine all the world's knowledge is contained within the pages of books in
>a single library.  There are only a few copies of maybe 10% of the books
>anywhere else outside this one library.  If we lose the library, we lose the
>vast majority of all knowledge throughout human history.  The Library is on
>fire, and the books are burning.  We have only a 100 volunteers to address
>the problem, and we want to use them optimally to save the knowledge that
>the library contains.
>One approach is to have all 100 volunteers run with buckets of water to
>battle the fire.  Some areas are burning worse than others, and based on our
>limited understanding of the library contents (only 10% or less of the card
>catalog is complete), we do our best to focus the efforts of the volunteers
>on those parts of the library where the fire is raging the most, and where
>we think the most valuable/diverse sets of books are located.
>All indications seem to be that the prospects for putting out the fire
>entirely are not good.  New sections are catching fire all throughout the
>library, and despite the best efforts of our volunteers running with buckets
>(who are certainly saving some books in some sections), overall the fire
>appears to be winning.
>An alternative approach is to leave half of the volunteers to the task of
>running buckets as best they can, and organize the other half of them to run
>through the library and grab samples of as many different books as possible,
>and take them outside the library to be stored inside a fire-proof vault
>across the street.  They're not grabbing every copy of each book -- just one
>or two copies of each.  In the vault, a few other volunteers are keeping
>track of which sections and which shelves each book came from, as well as
>rough estimations of how many copies of each book there were, and which
>other books were on adjacent shelves.
>No matter which approach is taken, the fire will eventually burn itself out.
>The question is, which of the two approaches outlined above will maximally
>increase the prospects of restoring the library (or at least understanding
>what the library once contained)?  The first approach will definitely
>preserve more of the original books in the context of the original
>library -- probably twice as many as would be saved by the second approach.
>But the second approach still gives us the contents of that vault across the
>street, which we wouldn't have had if we'd put all of our volunteers on the
>task of directly fighting the fire.  Maybe, eventually, the printing press
>will be invented, and then later, perhaps, high-speed digital scanning and
>printing technology. Armed with such technology, the books in the vault can
>be copied and reproduced in large quantities.  With basic knowledge about
>where the books were originally located inside the library, it's conceivable
>that much of the original library could eventually be restored.
>Which approach leads us to the optimal long-term prospects for knowledge
>preservation and restoration depends on many factors, such as how quickly
>the fire is winning (and predictions of its long-term future prospects), how
>likely it is that technology will eventually allow the library to be
>restored based on the vault contents, how capable we are at correctly
>identifying the most important sections of the library (based on out 10%
>card catalog), what the ratio of books saved per volunteer fire-fighter,
>versus books transferred to the vault per volunteer inventory taker...etc.,
>So....the Library represents natural habitat on Planet Earth; the books
>represent biodiversity (their contents represent DNA sequences); the fire
>represents habitat destruction and associated extinction; the volunteers
>represent a limited resource (e.g., biodollars); and the vault across the
>street represents Natural History collections with their carefully preserved
>specimens.  The first approach puts all emphasis on habitat conservation
>(e.g., preserving the "live biodiversity"), whereas the second approach
>balances the emphasis on conservation and species inventory.
>Getting back to Steve's point about specimens -- I tend to think that
>populating the "vault" with specimens is one of the most important
>contributions to human society that taxonomists have made/are making --
>especially in light of the rather grim prospects for extinction rates over
>the next 10-1000 years. In the short-term, the inventory effort will also
>continue to sharpen our understanding of which sections of the "library" are
>truly the most important/unique, and thus will help re-focus conservation
>efforts more intelligently.
>The ultimate question is: ten, a hundred, or a thousand years from now,
>which of the two approaches will be perceived as having been the wiser?

I would like to believe that it is not either-or but I think you have
convinced me that the vault with specimens may be a bit closer to equal
priority with preserving ecosystems than I had thought before.  One
unfortunate reason for this is historical: if we really were successful in
preserving ecosystems to the extent that the biodiversity therein is not
obviously threatened, I believe the resulting sense of security, justified
or not,  would cause people to continue to put off sampling that
biodiversity, thinking that can always be done later.  That certainly has
been the case up to the recent past, except within countries with enough
taxonomists to examine their own floras and faunas.

Still, I would go with preserving as much of the library (in situ
conservation) as possible as the highest priority.  The two main reasons
would be (1) we will never capture all of the genetic diversity within
species to put in the vaults even as starters for future genetic analysis
or manipulation, and (2) maybe even more importantly, a specimen in a vault
or herbarium represents not only its genotype but also whatever external
environmental (biotic and abiotic) influences resulted in the "finished
product" we examine.  Until ecology gets a whole lot more data than I think
are available at present, I doubt we would be able to come even remotely
close to capturing or creating those external influences in or
extrapolating from a vault.

Anyway, how many biologists and how long would it take to do enough
transects to get as much of the earth's present biodiversity sampled as has
been done in the past in the countries where the most is presently
known?  I don't know, but am pessimistic that we will come close unless
there is a program or entity organized for this specific purpose only. (I
apologize if there is such an organization(s) and I am unaware of it/them;
I would be interested to learn of any). It is better than nothing to
accompany timber company representatives in the field, as I have done, to
collect as specimens some of the plants they are cutting down before they
replace them with something else, or to get help from existing
agricultural, forestry, or conservation organizations, but the problem is
that none of those that I know of have sampling the biodiversity as their
primary focus or priority, so we always know we are getting only bits and
pieces from those organizations.

I am getting dangerously close to retirement age and wondering if that type
of inventorying would be a good retirement activity.  But it took almost a
year for me to get a little over 2,000 specimens collected, pressed, and
sent as I wandered around Cameroon in a not very organized way when I was
younger, and that was not usually traveling very many kilometers from the
nearest town.  Seems like it will take more than 100 fire fighters and some
prior organizational planning as to which hot spots they will be sent to
within the library!


>Richard L. Pyle
>Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
>1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
>Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
>email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
>"The opinions expressed are those of the sender, and not necessarily those
>of Bishop Museum."

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