[Taxacom] Mona Lisa Smile

D. Christopher Rogers crogers at ecoanalysts.com
Tue Jul 25 17:42:31 CDT 2006

Here is my two cents worth:

The vast majority of my professional work and the work of my colleagues is
bioassessment, in which we use invertebrate community structure as a meter
stick of habitat health functionality. This type of habitat assessment is
far more accurate and precise at measuring habitat functionality then
chemical testing, because you are gauging the suitability and health of the
habitat using the organisms that are actually using the habitat: organisms
that are adapted to a given habitat or niche. I conduct this work in aquatic
and terrestrial habitats. What does this have to do with the classification

The traditional Linnaean classifications provide us with the means of
understanding the ecology of the habitats we study. Certain orders,
families, genera and species in my quantitative samples have certain
ecological meaning. I can take a one square meter sample from a river, for
example, and depending on what taxa are there, I can tell you what metals
and pollutants are present, what nutrients, what the dissolved oxygen levels
are, what the flow regime is, how long an impacted site will take to
recover, If a restored habitat is beginning to function naturally, how clean
the water is, etcetera.

Different species, genera, and families of invertebrates mean very different
things ecologically. I could give dozens of general, and hundreds of
specific examples. Certain subfamilies of flies in the family Dixidae will
tell you different things than others. Different mayfly genera will give you
different information concerning heavy metals. Different midge genera will
tell you what type of nutrient loading (if any) is occurring in a given
site. My beloved crustaceans at order level can tell me about pesticide
contamination in certain areas. Most larval insects cannot be identified
beyond family or genus level, yet they are important ecological indicators
of water quality!

Furthermore, I need dichotomous keys to orders, families, genera and species
to identify the organisms in my samples, and some of these samples may
harbor more than 10,000 individual organisms. I need taxonomical hierarchy
to identify my specimens.

There is an international bioassessment industry (I work all over the
world), borne of the desire for clean water, clean soil and clean air, as
well as natural and restored wildlife habitat, that relies on Linnaean
taxonomy. Therefore, to those of us who work in this field much of
cladistics (Phyllocode and Least Inclusive Taxonomic Units) are of little
use, and to some of us in this industry represent "ivory tower thinking".

To support the point that I think Tom Lammers was making, organisms are a
function of their environment. Their taxonomy, in terms of their biology and
ecology, are of far greater significance to the general public who wants
clean water, clean air, and a healthy environment. If you take an organism
out of its environment, and reduce it to a mere terminus on a line, you may
risk losing everything that made it what it is.

My best to you all,

D. Christopher Rogers
Invertebrate Ecologist/Taxonomist

EcoAnalysts, Inc.
(530) 406-1178
166 Buckeye Street
Woodland CA 95695 USA

? Invertebrate Taxonomy
? Invertebrate Ecological Studies
? Bioassessment and Study Design
? Endangered Invertebrate Species
? Zooplankton
? Periphyton/ Phytoplankton

Moscow, ID ? Bozeman, MT ? Woodland, CA ? Neosho, MO ? Selinsgrove, PA

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu]On Behalf Of Thomas Lammers
Sent: Tuesday, July 25, 2006 3:01 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Mona Lisa Smile

----- Original Message -----
From: John Grehan <jgrehan at sciencebuff.org>

> Mona Lisa smile: The morphological enigma of human and great ape

> The science of human evolution is confronted with the popular
chimpanzeetheory and the earlier but largely ignored orangutan theory. The
quality and scope of published documentation and verification of
morphological features suggests there is very little in morphology to
support a unique common ancestor for humans and chimpanzees. A close
relationship betweenhumans and African apes is currently supported by only
eight unproblematic characters. The orangutan relationship is supported by
about 28 well supported characters, and it is also corroborated by the
presence of orangutan-related features in early hominids. The uniquely
shared morphology of humans and orangutans raises doubts about the almost
universal belief that DNA sequence similarities necessarily demonstrate a
closer evolutionary relationship between humans and
chimpanzees. A new evolutionary reconstruction is proposed for the soft
tissue anatomy, physiology, and behavioral biology of the first
hominidsthat includes concealed ovulation, male beard and  mustache,
prolonged mating, extended pair bonding, 'house' construction, mechanical
'genius', and artistic expression.<

I find myself wondering if part of the problem we have in discerning these
two hypotheses is that we have locked ourselves into cladistic thinking to
the point that it really colors our thinking.  We are, after all, dealing
with fairly recent low-level events.  I have always maintained that such
population-level phenomena may not be well represented by the perpetually
dichotomizing model of cladistics.  Instead of thinking of big dots
(species) trailing lines behind them, which then fork at some point, we need
to be thinking about populations -- enormous groups of individual dots
living in their environment, doing whatever it takes to optimize
survivorship and fecundity.

I don't doubt that the DNA data are "real" nor do I doubt that the
morphological data are "real."  Detailed discussions of parsimony,
probability, bootstrap values, etc. are not what is needed to resolve the
conundrum.  An understanding of *biology* is what is needed.  Unfortunately,
in the last two decades, we have raised up too many biologists who don't
know much about biology ...

Tom Lammers

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