Real species

Ron at Ron at
Sat Apr 17 02:31:01 CDT 2004

----- Original Message -----
From: Richard Pyle
Sent: Saturday, April 17, 2004 12:53 AM
Subject: Re: Real species

So...I agree with your basic point that the further you get from an
individual organism, the less "real" a collective set becomes (the word
"real" here refering to some intrinsic property that transcends mere human
definition). But drawing a line at subspecies as "real" and the higher ranks
is every bit as arbitrary as the notion that I've seen some suggest, that
species are "real", while genera and higher ranks are not.

Yes.  I began using the phrase "most real" about two years ago to a large
degree as somewhat scarcastic because of the continuing arguments of which
of 24 species concepts were the "most real".  When I read your above
assessment I say you are correct.  I am a proponent to subspecific study,
which is not "at the front" today, so I like to try and level the playing
field with a counter over statement.  None the less, the lowest denominator
argument is sound as most people in this debate sooner or later will mention
the individual specimen.  For that admission, it is easy to build my
argument for subspecies or varieties as the next least subjective.   The
irony though is what you get into next.  That being that subspecies are the
most subjective of the ranks _due to_ the variables of...

Richard: also use the words "regional", "unique", and "stable" -- all
of which
point to an "artificial" construct.


What I look for in determining the above boundaries are those that are
self-manifesting in each segregate.   This is how I try an eliminate the
"artificial" from it.   Stable is simply if they "do" the same thing over
and over (let's say a particular migratory path, or a specific diet).
Regional would be defined primarily by biogeographical - say desert.  Unique
by some, well, unique "thing" that we humans can discern - say a species of
bird had one regional population that did not sing.  and another that did.
Each is unique.  If that was the only thing different - they were regionally
segregated - and been like that as long as anyone knows - it's a good
subspecies to me.  And evolutionally significantly so - one had a voice
(song) and the other not.

some more snips

> In my subspeciation
> paradigm, the "of" is unimportant - almost a non factor - a
> necissary evil -
> that is where all the subjectivity lies.   It doesn't matter much
> to me what
> "species" someone may or may not connect the subspecies to - with - of.

Richard: O.K., so you're not concerned with evolutionary affinities -- just
collections of critters/weeds.

Ron: I would say naturally occurring populations, not collections.   Reading
"collections" as museum specimens.  I see collection determinations to any
rank as inherently flawed.   This is why DNA, biological, field and other
live biotic analysis as essential to accurate relational determinations at
all ranks or levels.   Truly cryptic taxa can never be determined from just
the collection.

Richard: That's fine, but it doesn't allow you to
escape having to deal with boundaries. We taxonomists (not just what you
describe as systematists) also have to deal with boundaries on a very
regular basis.  To wit, "Is this set of organisms consistently distinct from
this other set of organisms enough that the interests of communication among
biologists is best served by the designation of different textual labels
applied to each set?"  This is the question I ask myself whenever I
contemplate naming a new species.  I long ago abandoned any notion of trying
to "discover" whether the two sets of organisms "are", or "are not",
different species.


Ron:  I especially like that last statement.  To me, I'd be just as content
to do away with ranks all together and simply work to discover organic
SETS - unique population entities.   BUT, to do so would only serve _my_
main area of interest - identification and delineation of living sets.
This is apples and oranges to me.  I also see and appreciate those who are
only interested in evolutional relationships and hierarchy.  My opposition
to PhyloCode is that I see it as myopic and exclusionary to other points of
view.  I see the traditional Linnaean taxonomy as a system in and through
which all the diverse "specialized" groups can find expression.   I see
subspecies utilization as a communication option for those who want to note
node 123xyz - but they would't think that was cool.  Old school and a step

> The central matter is that the regional entity is _unique_ (in and of
> itself).  Unique how?  That is up to the  researcher to find out.  Life is
> unique in many varying ways.   It is that uniqueness that is
> tangible (real /fact) and the basis for recognition.

Richard: Yes, but every individual organism is "unique", and my family tree
"unique" with respect to your family tree.  I see a virtual continuum from
an individual, out through subspecies, and into species, genera, families,
etc.  There seems nothing more "real" to me about drawing the line at some
arbitrary rank of "subspecies", rather than at "species" (or "genus", etc.).

Ron:  I don't disagree with anything you have said.  This is because it is
entirely a matter of what a person is want to denote or delineate.  One of
the points I touched on in the link I provided is that different denotations
and delineations require different means and methods.   We need to get away
from the one size fits all way of doing systematics and taxonomy.  We need
to allow and embrace the validity of multidimensional TRUTHS and not see
them as competing - but complimenting.   A large part of my stance with
subspecies is because so many today "look down on them" in some way.   But I
am the type of person that will speak up.   From my prejudice, I see
subspecific delineations as as close to real as we can get in putting
current evolution into taxonomic (and Code compliant) expression.   This is
vital in my view, because people work better with words than numbers ( Aus
wus vs. eu8f874uyr993).   Yes, where are my roots.   But if we are fortunate
to be around 1 billion years from now, the description of subspecifics today
and monitoring of same into the future will eliminate that question from
here forward.   My view is that subspecies (varieties and strains) are the
launching pad for the biotic future.  I see no virtue in neglecting any area
of scientific study, and even less virtue in those who are so prone to
demean some one else's area of study - even to the point where some area of
research can't even find a source of publicaton any more.

Richard :  Having said all of that, I do believe there is likely to be an
inflection point in a lineage split -- some point where gene flow drops from
something on the scale of flow within a typical population of organisms, to
something on the scale of rare hybridization events or the "background
radiation" of lateral gene flow.  There is a continuum between those two
points, but I imagine that when we step back and look at the larger picture,
we'll see a demonstrable "dip" in the otherwise smooth continuum.  Almost
like punctuated equilibrium (but not really). Those borderline cases we see
around us are cases that happen to be on the "dip" at this point in
evolutionary history.  Most organisms (e.g., humans, chimps, and orangs)
will have passed the "dip" some time ago. Reading through the rest of your
email, I think I mean the same thing here as you do with "plateaus" and
"steps" between them.  Except there is really only one step -- that between
large-scale gene flow and near-zero gene flow.  Once gene-flow steps to near
zero, I imagine it usually stays that way (plants & corals notwithstanding).


Really?  You mean that all living things are somehow derived from eels? ;-)

(fish-nerd joke)


And a good one too.  I heard this once from a theologian of all things.  "If
what I know met what I don't know, what I know would be highly embarrassed."
Discussion is good as it makes us all think - hopefully.

Always learning
Ron Gatrelle

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