Where are all the systematists?

Ellen A. Dean eadean at UCDAVIS.EDU
Tue Jun 18 17:01:39 CDT 2002

In plant systematics, I don't think the problem is necessarily a lower 
number of systematists, but rather a change in emphasis from working at the 
level of species and describing new species to working at much higher 
levels where phylogeny is employed to analyze whether genera or families 
are monophyletic.  Here at UC Davis, some graduate students are being 
trained, but most of them are not using museum specimens for anything more 
than sampling for DNA.  They are not looking at whether or not there are 
new species out there to describe.  This emphasis on working at higher 
levels discourages many students from taking on a "messy" understudied 
group where exploration is needed, because they need to produce a neat 
phylogeny in order to get a university job.  I could fill out the 
questionnaire, but the answers I give would be misleading.  Ellen

At 09:35 AM 6/19/02 -0500, STEPHEN MANNING wrote:
>I am not at a museum, but if indeed the number of systematists has 
>dwindled, it seems to me worthwhile to send this or similar questionnaire 
>to universities as well as museums, to try to determine why this is happening.
>Also, I would like to know where to access hard data about the dwindling 
>number of systematists - ideally, broken down according to specialty such 
>as entomology, systematic botany, etc.
>Steve Manning
>At 01:17 PM 6/18/02 -0500, Petra Sierwald wrote:
>>Dear Colleagues,
>>Despite extensive, sometimes heated, discussion of the Biodiversity Crisis, a
>>main aspect of biodiversity itself (the number of species and how to 
>>them) is a poorly known parameter.  This is not surprising, since the 
>>number of
>>systematists has dwindled. We were asked to explore the role Museums take in
>>training the new generation of systematists.  The results will be 
>>presented at
>>ICSEB VI (International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology) in
>>We would like to hear from Museums around the world. We will greatly 
>>if you  reply to the questions below and send the response back to one of us
>>(psierwald at fieldmuseum.org).
>>In return, we will post a summary of our findings on <Taxacom> in the fall of
>>this year.
>>1.      How many graduate students/postdocs have you mentored during your
>>so far?
>>2.      For how many of these were you the primary advisor?
>>3.      How many of these achieved positions (Museums, Universities) allowing
>>them to pursue systematics in their chosen taxonomic group?
>>4.      List the fields of the graduate students/postdocs: Vertebrates,
>>Invertebrates, Green Plants, Fungi, Microbes?
>>5.      During your own graduate work, did you spend considerable time at a
>>museum working in the collection?
>>6.      During your own graduate/postdoctoral work were you mentored by a
>>7.      Is your Museum directly affiliated with a university?
>>If you have data for other sections in your museum, we would greatly 
>>your replies below.
>>1.      How many graduate students, working on systematic 
>>thesis-projects, have
>>recently been residents in your museums?
>>2.      How many of these students work closely with or are being 
>>mentored by a
>>museum research staff member?
>>3.      For how many of these students is a museum research staff members the
>>primary thesis advisor?
>>4.      How many postdoctoral fellows in systematics are currently in 
>>at your museum?
>>5.      List the fields of the graduate students/postdocs: Vertebrates,
>>Invertebrates, Green Plants, Fungi, Microbes?
>>Thank you so very much for your replies.
>>We will post a summary of our results no later than November 2002.
>>With best regards
>>Petra Sierwald & RĂ¼diger Bieler
>>Petra Sierwald, Assistant Curator - Zoology, Insects
>>Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 S Lake Shore Drive
>>Chicago, IL 60605, USA.
>>E-mail: <psierwald at fieldmuseum.org>
>>Phone: (312) 665-7744; Fax: (312) 665-7754
>>Rudiger Bieler -- Chairman, Department of Zoology
>>Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive,
>>Chicago, IL 60605-2496, U.S.A
>>E-mail <bieler at fieldmuseum.org>
>>Phone +1(312) 665-7720; Fax +1(312) 665-7754
>>Museum web page: <http://www.fieldmuseum.org>

Ellen Dean
UC Davis Herbarium
Section of Plant Biology
University of California at Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, California 95616
eadean at ucdavis.edu

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