DNA and all that

Snow, Neil Neil.Snow at UNCO.EDU
Fri Feb 7 10:11:43 CST 2003

I think as taxonomists it is necessary to explain to our colleagues -- ecologists, molecular systematists, whoever --- the importance of vouchers.  My recent experience has been that their ears do perk up considerably when one can present data illustrating the high number of misidentifications of vouchers, and explain why the absence of a voucher means that the science is not repeatable.

We presently have three graduate students doing ecology-related projects that involve plants to a significant degree.  As a committee member for two of these projects, I have explained why vouchers are important, helped the students collect the plants, and helped them in many cases with difficult identifications.  Their theses explicitly list in an Appendix (or will list when they are sumbitted) vouchers for all or nearly all plots.  

Students also seem to gain some satisfaction, which has nothing to do with science, that the statment "MS thesis voucher for Jill Jones" appears on each herbarium label associated with their project.  That statement on the label about voucher status is also important to prevent the specimens being transfered to other herbaria in the future.  In most cases I have provided the template for making the herbarium specimen labels directly to the students.  They fill in all of the information, after which I proof read and correct the inevitable minor errors before the labels are actually produced.  Making the labels gives students additional ownership of the process and more importantly teaches them how to do science properly.  A friendly "Okay, good work" regarding the handling of vouchers and labels every now and then never hurts, either.

An ecologist faculty colleague recently expressed genuine interest in wanting to know what was necessary to properly voucher specimens, so even established researchers can be very receptive to the importance of voucher specimens.

In summary, I think scientific colleagues understand the importance of vouchers if that information is presented to them.  

N. Snow

-----Original Message-----
From: Monique Reed [mailto:monique at MAIL.BIO.TAMU.EDU]
Sent: Friday, February 07, 2003 9:23 AM
Subject: Re: [TAXACOM] DNA and all that

I wish I shared Dirk's optimism.  In seventeen years of maintaining the herbarium in a fairly large Biology Department, one which is skewed heavily toward the "DNA bandwagon", I have received only 52 DNA vouchers representing 3 or 4 projects.  None of the molecular systematic botany graduate students currently  in the department has submitted any  and none of the faculty is currently depositing vouchers for DNA work either.

Monique Reed
Texas A&M University

 "Date:    Thu, 6 Feb 2003 09:00:57 +0100
From:    Dirk Albach <albach at GMX.NET>
Subject: Re: DNA and all that


don't worry about the DNA bandwagon rolling over traditional taxonomy. One can't live without the other. Traditional taxonomy needs DNA characters for hypothesis testing. And molecular systematics needs traditional taxonomy for identifying what they are sequencing. Just look at how many misidentified species in molecular analyses are reported (Taxon 51(4): p.696 for a recent example) and based on my own experience this is just the tip of an iceberg, to which I unfortunately contributed myself at the beginning of my Ph.D. thesis. This shows the importance of vouchers for DNA sequence - and those able to check


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