[Taxacom] Journalist inquiry

Edwards, G.B. edwardg at doacs.state.fl.us
Wed Jun 28 07:46:58 CDT 2006

While what Rich brought up can be true, on the other hand, there are
opposite types of examples.  Some tarantulas in the pet trade apparently
have not been described.  Even worse, unscrupulous dealers are giving
'trade names' to these species, and in at least one case, a new genus
was described for a new Mexican species to get around the protected
status (CITES II) of the genus Brachypelma in Mexico.  The species was
later unequivocally shown to belong to Brachypelma.

G. B. Edwards, Ph.D.  [Your Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman] 
Curator: Arachnida (except Acari), Myriapoda, Terrestrial Crustacea,
Florida State Collection of Arthropods, FDACS, Division of Plant
P.O.Box 147100, 1911 SW 34th St., Gainesville, FL 32614-7100 USA 
(352) 372-3505 x194; fax (352) 334-0737; edwardg at doacs.state.fl.us 
Veritas vos liberabit 

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Pyle
Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2006 8:02 PM
To: Lila Guterman; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Journalist inquiry

Hi Lila,

There are a number of examples in coral-reef fishes where a new species
appeared in the commercial trade soon after, or in some cases even
the species is scientifically described.  A few examples with which I
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
to the attention of the scientific community *by* the commercial
trade; rather than the other way around.  Thus, it is usually not
so much of a "problem", but rather a sort of "symbiotic" relationship
between the commercial trade and the taxonomists.  Moreover, in most
cases in reef fishes, the species has eluded prior discovery not so much
because it is rare or has an extremely restricted distribution, but
it simply lives somewhere that scientists have not yet been able to
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,
I felt it worth pointing out that it's not always an adversarial
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
(I'm aware of similar examples for marine mollusks, and I suspect
other terrestrial groups as well).

This is not to say that the relationship between the scientific
and commercial trade is always harmonious.  Indeed, I imagine that in
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
is more problematic. Indeed, those of us who serve as "gatekeepers" for
natural history collections data have to tread the delicate balance
providing accurate and detailed locality information for certain
species to the researchers who need it, without revealing too much
information that could be exploited by poachers and other
collectors.  Generally, "sensitive" species are those with the combined
characteristics of highly restricted distribution and/or scarcity in
and high commercial value.  It's not always obvious which species should
characterized as such; and species that are considered non-sensitive now
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
tightly correlated with the discovery of new taxa (although I suppose
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
needs of researchers for accurate and complete data, against the
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,
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
> a problem coming up in animal taxonomy research, and I was wondering
> members of the mailing list have other examples of the same problem,
> 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
> their descriptions in the scientific literature. I would like to know
> 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
> 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
> _______________________________________________
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