[Taxacom] Journalist inquiry

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Tue Jun 27 19:01:55 CDT 2006

Hi Lila,

There are a number of examples in coral-reef fishes where a new species has
appeared in the commercial trade soon after, or in some cases even before,
the species is scientifically described.  A few examples with which I have
had direct experience include:

Centropyge boylei

Centropyge narcosis

Belonoperca pylei

...among a number of others.

Often in these and other cases, the existence of the new species is brought
to the attention of the scientific community *by* the commercial (aquarium)
trade; rather than the other way around.  Thus, it is usually not considered
so much of a "problem", but rather a sort of "symbiotic" relationship
between the commercial trade and the taxonomists.  Moreover, in most such
cases in reef fishes, the species has eluded prior discovery not so much
because it is rare or has an extremely restricted distribution, but because
it simply lives somewhere that scientists have not yet been able to survey.
Hence, there are usually few, if any, conservation implications in this

I realize this is not exactly the sort of example you were looking for, but
I felt it worth pointing out that it's not always an adversarial interaction
between scientists and the commercial trade, nor does the impact of such
commercial trade necessarily translate into environmentally harmful
consequences. I suspect that coral-reef fishes are not the only such example
(I'm aware of similar examples for marine mollusks, and I suspect several
other terrestrial groups as well).

This is not to say that the relationship between the scientific community
and commercial trade is always harmonious.  Indeed, I imagine that in most
cases (particularly involving terrestrial or freshwater organisms), the
paradigm is more along the lines of the amphibian and reptile examples
(certain orchids come to mind).  But the problem, as such, is not limited to
newly described species.  There are probably many more examples of
well-known species that have very restricted distribution, where this issue
is more problematic. Indeed, those of us who serve as "gatekeepers" for
natural history collections data have to tread the delicate balance between
providing accurate and detailed locality information for certain "sensitive"
species to the researchers who need it, without revealing too much
information that could be exploited by poachers and other less-scrupulous
collectors.  Generally, "sensitive" species are those with the combined
characteristics of highly restricted distribution and/or scarcity in nature,
and high commercial value.  It's not always obvious which species should be
characterized as such; and species that are considered non-sensitive now may
become sensitive later (but, of course, once the information is made
available, it's hard to get the genie back in the bottle later on).

So, in my mind at least, the problem (when it is a problem) is not really
tightly correlated with the discovery of new taxa (although I suppose there
is an increasing tendency for as-yet undiscovered species to also have
highly restricted distributions, and thus increased potential
"sensitivity") -- but is a more general informatics problem of balancing the
needs of researchers for accurate and complete data, against the potential
harm that access to such data could bring to sensitive species if made
freely available.

I'm not sure if this addresses the question(s) you seek information on, but
I hope that it at least provides some broader context.


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Database Coordinator for Natural Sciences
  and Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology
Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org

> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu]On Behalf Of Lila Guterman
> Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2006 11:00 AM
> To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: [Taxacom] Journalist inquiry
> Hello all,
> I'm a science writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education. I write
> about  research in science and medicine. I'm working on an article about
> a problem coming up in animal taxonomy research, and I was wondering if
> members of the mailing list have other examples of the same problem, or
> ideas of how to deal with it.
> As you may have seen in Science last month, three newly discovered
> amphibian and reptile species rapidly appeared in commercial trade after
> their descriptions in the scientific literature. I would like to know if
> similar problems have occurred with other newly described plant or
> animal species. (I have already posted this query to the Herbaria
> listserv, as well.)
> Do researchers have a good way to deal with such issues? Are locations
> of new plant or animal populations being suppressed from scientific
> descriptions? If so, does this hinder further research or conservation?
> If the locations continue to be published, does the practice endanger
> the described new species since poachers will know where to find it?
> I'd be very grateful if anyone had some ideas or comments on such
> issues. This is for an article that will appear in early July, so I'd
> need responses by the end of the week.
> Thanks so much,
> Lila Guterman
> --
> Lila Guterman
> Senior Reporter
> The Chronicle of Higher Education
> Voice: 202-466-1794
> Fax: 202-452-1033
> Website: www.chronicle.com
> Personal website: www.nasw.org/users/guterman
> _______________________________________________
> Taxacom mailing list
> Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/mailman/listinfo/taxacom

More information about the Taxacom mailing list