Protecting collections by raising the perceived status of systematics

John Shuey jshuey at TNC.ORG
Thu Apr 17 17:22:22 CDT 2003

As my last act in the office for a week or so, I just have to comment on the
following statement - I'm in a hurry so this will probably irritate some (or
most) folks out there - my tact level is at near zero - given my co-workers

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

If this is true, then biodiversity is totally screwed.  We know so little,
and the threat to biodiversity is great and those threats so pressing.  One
of the threats out there is "inaction due to our limited understanding of"
A) species present. B) species distributions C) ecological processes; D)
intra - and inter-species interactions; E) viability criteria... , Z)
pathogens...,   AZ) global warming.....  ZZ) you name it.

How do you get around all this ignorance?  - work at a scale that captures
the "grain" of ecological processes and interactions.  And choose your sites
well so that they capture species.   This latter aspect is usually informed
well by systematics and  taxonomy.  Centers of endemism play a huge role.
Species assemblages often serve as surrogates for other groups (e.g., plant
associations in the US are the primary surrogate). Distributions of
individual species sometimes inform site selection (but you start to loose
efficiency if you go too far down this path).

To quote myself at a forest ecology symposium last week

"Conservation isn't rocket science...
     there are no corresponding laws to the laws of physics which can
accurately predict ecological trajectory.
       But functional redundancy can save our butts, and our ecosystems."

The bottom line - conservation is all about grain size and intact ecological
processes, implemented across sites that capture the ecological gradients
that influence species distributions and evolutionary potential.

A.K.A., informed ignorance.  At this stage of the game, if we have to "know
it" to protect it,  then.....

Really, I have to go.......

John Shuey
Director of Conservation Science
Indiana Office of The Nature Conservancy

-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom Discussion List [mailto:TAXACOM at USOBI.ORG]On Behalf Of Tom
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2003 1:57 PM
Subject: Re: Protecting collections by raising the perceived status of

Ron Gatrelle wrote:

>When we started TILS (The International Lepidoptera Survey) in 1998 we came
>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 see
>how important this motto is.   The motto is this.
>   "We can not protect that which we do not know."

Indeed--but that is a double-edged sword, especially in the present
political environment (as to the U.S.)  I fear that there are many
for whom that is EXACTLY why we should get rid of collections--and
collecting--and here I am not referring to the U.S. only.  Tom Wendt

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