primary specimen data

George <E. at <schatz at MOBOT.ORG>.bitnet> George <E. at <schatz at MOBOT.ORG>.bitnet>
Mon Jun 10 15:58:27 CDT 2002

In a paper I gave at MBG's annual Systematics Symposium, Oct 2000, which is about to be published ("Taxonomy and herbaria in service of plant conservation: Lessons from Madagascar's endemic families", Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 89: 145-152), I called for the establishment of a GenBank analog ("SpecimenBank") for the deposition of the primary specimen data upon which a revised taxonomic framework is based.  Some excerpts:
Revised taxonomic frameworks, however, should in theory be based upon examination of all existing collections, and therefore represent the most appropriate and opportune point at which to disseminate reattributed primary data. Indeed, deposition of reattributed primary data into an Internet accessible database should be a sine qua non for publication of a revised taxonomic framework, just as deposition of nucleotide sequence data into GenBank (see [NCBI]) has become (in most cases) a necessary precondition for publishing phylogenetic frameworks. ........Recent discussion of the state of bioinformatics for biodiversity has sounded the call for improved infrastructure, and highlighted various developments involving remote query and retrieval from multiple, so-called distributed databases (= "interoperability") (Bisby, 2000; Edwards et al., 2000; Krishtalka & Humphrey, 2000). Nevertheless, in conjunction specifically with the publication of revised taxonomic frameworks, it would seem appropriate and extremely useful to establish a GenBank analog ("SpecimenBank") for deposition of the underlying geo-referenced primary data.........Just as the nucleotide sequences in GenBank document the microgeography of biodiversity, natural history collections define its macrogeography. Obvious linkages between the two scales should be made, as well as to seedbanks and living germplasm collections (at [IPGRI] and [NPGS]).

As we all know, it's simply not enough to track (=register) names.  Except in their relation to their type, the "meanings" of names are not static, and may be modified in space and/or time with each new collection (even in the case of the "meaning" of names in relation to their types, those meanings are subject to submersion within the "meaning" of another name in the process of subjective taxonomic interpretation, i.e., the heterotypic synonymy that Doug abhors, but is an unavoidable consequence of our endeavors). Taxa achieve their meaning by virtue of the primary specimen data that are deemed representative of them (and only them).

We need to "register" the primary data that form the basis of our subjective (and sometimes conflicting) circumscription of taxa.  We must also accept that it - our circumscription at time x based upon primary data 1-n  will not be final word.  It must be continually reevaluated with each new n+1 bit of primary data.

George E. Schatz
Missouri Botanical Garden
P.O. Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166-0299
Phone: 314-577-9512
Fax: 314-577-9596
schatz at

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