Real taxa

Stephan Helfer S.Helfer at RBGE.AC.UK
Thu Sep 30 15:26:03 CDT 2004

Dear list members
As I can't remember all the threads already presented to this or similar
questions, I risk to repeat what has possibly already been mentioned. 
Humans are not the only organisms which use taxonomies. Providing we
accept, for the purpose of this argument, that there are real units out
there and that things which are measurably alike are in essence alike
(i.e. two snow flakes are essentially the same, as are two human
individuals or individuals of other "species").

Other organisms share this perception of likeness: Many pollinators
appear to have concepts of "kind"; similarly, parasitic and mutualistic
fungi, animals and plants have concepts of "kind", the concept mainly
being: is this a favourable environment to live on/in/with or is it not?

In consequence, if we accept the reality of these organisms, our own
concept of taxa can be either challenged or supported. Many rust fungi,
for instance, only infect a single "species" (as humans understand it)
of plants; thus confirming our concept of similarity. Others infect a
whole genus (a.h.u.i) etc. 
Whilst this approach does not provide an answer to the question of
reality of species, it can at least reassure us that we are not alone in
making taxonomic decisions in order to gain a livelihood...

Stephan Helfer
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Scotland, UK

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