Protecting collections by raising the perceived status of systematics

Casey tuckercj at MUOHIO.EDU
Thu Apr 17 14:57:31 CDT 2003

Unfortunately, I think that many university administrators would
disagree with your statement in regards to athletic programs.  They view
the athletic programs as a big money maker because of the publicity &
notoriety they bring to the school.  Look at the attention the Final 4
competition recently brought to all of those schools that competed.  Who
had ever heard of Gonzaga before their basketball team started competing
in the national championship?  Athletics are big money makers.  I agree
that this is unfortunate, but schools are businesses & they do have to
make money to help pay bills.

Additionally, conservation is important, but I think a stronger sales
pitch would be to ask what kind of potential products are we losing as
we lose biodiversity.  Money makes the world go 'round, & to make
conservation & systematics a priority we have to show how it can be as
profitable, or more profitable, than the more traditional consumptive
uses for the land/habitat/organisms.  Of course this profitability can
work on varying levels.  So it could be a matter of teaching local
villagers about the biodiversity around them so that they can run a
successful eco-tourism business to feed their families, or showing large
foreign pharmaceutical corporations new potential drugs from rain forest
plants & animals.  I think as systematists begin to lose funding from
traditional governmental & NGO granting agencies, we're going to have to
start turning to corporations & big businesses to fund our research
endeavors.  Of course there are negative ramifications to that in that
research will be influenced by business, & therefore potentially less
"academic", but it's at least a means to continue funding.

Unfortunately, I think a loss of systematists is not the main problem
that we face.  Rather it is the loss of the systematic collections that
is more troubling.  Using the book/library analogy from a previous
message, I view the loss of these collections as being equivalent to the
book burning that occurred in Nazi Germany decades ago, except that
instead of just burning books randomly tossed on the fire, they're
setting whole libraries & bookstores ablaze.

The profession of systematics is much like a pendulum.  Look at E.O.
Wilson's biography, Naturalist, & you will see that molecular biology
became a prominent focus in higher ed research facilities for a period
of time, but eventually the pendulum shifted back when researchers
realized they didn't know enough about the organisms they were studying.
Right now molecular biology & ecological computer modeling are the two
research areas that are displacing systematists.  We are fortunate in
that these two disciplines are limited in their capacity, & eventually
will depend upon systematists & organismal biologists in the future to
help improve their models, or provide clarity to the molecular pictures
they derive.  Of course this means that systematists are serving in a
support role, & their will be some immediate job loss, but the study of
systematics will continue.  The loss of the collections, however, means
a loss of information & will set research back a hundred, or more years.
We need an endowed, non-profit repository so that as institutions lose
funding to maintain their collections they have a place to safely donate
them.  Benefits from this are at least two-fold.  First, the collections
are not dispersed &/or discarded.  Second, by having collections in a
centralized location researchers have better access to them (they don't
have to travel from institution to institution searching for specimens),
& series become more complete, & thus provide better information to
various questions both ecologically & evolutionarily.

These are just my opinions.  Take them for what you will.

Casey Tucker
Dept. of Zoology
Miami University
Oxford, Ohio
tuckercj at

-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom Discussion List [mailto:TAXACOM at USOBI.ORG] On Behalf Of
Ron Gatrelle
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2003 1:20 PM
Subject: Re: [TAXACOM] Protecting collections by raising the perceived
status of systematics

Gerald's is a detailed and serious post that should be addressed item by
item.  I will start with #4 below.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Gerald R. Noonan" <carabid at MPM.EDU>
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2003 11:45 AM
Subject: Protecting collections by raising the perceived status of

> 4. Even without the survey suggested under item 1 above I strongly
> that.
>         A. we must sell systematics as a vitally important discipline,
> extremely interesting and productive branch of science.

When we started TILS (The International Lepidoptera Survey) in 1998 we
up with a motto.  At the time it just looked catchy as a phrase.  But as
time has gone on, through the comments of many others, we have come to
how important this motto is.   The motto is this.

  "We can not protect that which we do not know."

At the top of our donations page we
the following.

"Every day around the world, in jungles and urban areas alike, insect
species and subspecies are becoming extinct.  Every year scores of taxa
lost that have not even been scientifically discovered and documented.
Thus, their extinction is unnoticed because their existence is unknown.
They are unknown simply because they have not been collected and
systematically identified.  Without systematic taxonomy there is
Without the collection, and exchange of specimens (information) there
be no systematic taxonomy.  Without amateur collectors the majority of
undiscovered species/subspecies will vanish before they are discovered.
it butterflies or moon rocks, collecting is the first step of access to
other scientific information -and protection."

Here we have the connection of _collection_ (collections) and
_conservation_.   I do not think there is any greater "pitch" to make
"sale" for the importance of collections/ taxonomy/ systematics etc.
the direct relationship to conservation.  Are Universities going about
eliminating their libraries?   Their text books?  A collection is a
library, nothing more.  Each properly labeled specimen is available for
"reading" - its phenotype, morphology, DNA, place of origin
(occurrence/range) etc.   In today's world the number one real world
application of this data is in conservation.    At this hour we need
collecting, collections, researchers (in all related areas).  Without
these, the thousands of as yet unknown, undocumented and undescribed
organisms will never be known - and never protected.

If something really has to go, I  say keep the collections and get rid
the costly sports programs. Put education back as job one - not
entertainment by gladiators.

Ron Gatrelle
TILS president
Charleston, SC - USA

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