[Taxacom] ITS, Species 2000,

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Fri May 25 17:18:22 CDT 2007

Hi Jeremy,

> Wouldn't it be better to fit somewhere between the extremes 
> of "fact" and "opinion", and consider species as hypotheses 
> to both work with and test?

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the whole "species as hypotheses" approach.
This implies there is some sort of "correct" answer (i.e., that evolution
actually produces objectively identifiable "species" units), and approaching
that correct answer is simply a matter of testing the hypothesis.

I'm in the camp that believes that evolution happened in a mostly
bifurcating/divergence sort of way (cluttered here and there with asexual
reproduction, lateral gene flow, and introgression and hybridization to
greater or lesser degrees), and that we can make honest-to-goodness testable
hypotheses about the evolutionary history of the organisms we see around us
(i.e., phylogenies). However, discussions about nomenclature and "species"
(as well as other taxonomic ranks) fall into the category of tools for
communication -- not scientific hypotheses to be tested.  The closest thing
I can imagine to a hypotheses about species would be something along the
lines of: "More people will find it more useful for the purposes of
communicating amongst themselves if we circumscribe this set of organisms as
a labelled 'species', separate from this other circumscribed set of
organisms."  Certainly, I think that nomencalture and Linnaean
classifications should be strongly influenced by the outcomes of
phylogenetic studies; but ultimately the names and ranks themselves are
defined by us, not discovered by us.

This topic has been hammered out on this forum several times before, and it
always seems to end with people agreeing to disagree.

> P.S. whatever happened to "Bulbine", "Baumea", "Exocarya" 
> under the Catelogue of Life? 
> And, why is _Gahnia gahniiformis_ (Gaud.) Heller the accepted 
> name for synonyms _Machaerina gahniiformis_ (Gaud.) J. Kern 
> and _Morelotia gahniiformis_ Gaud., when all the evidence 
> over the last 20 years clearly indicates that Morelotia 
> gahniiformis Gaud. is the most appropriate hypothesis (i.e. 
> Morelotia is a separate lineage to Gahnia)?

I feel your pain -- and have felt it for many years (except for the framing
it as a hypothesis bit).  The problem is that no single "meta-authority" can
possibly stay on top of all the literature for all of the taxa.  Charismatic
stuff (e.g., vertebrates), where the ratio of taxonomists to diversity is
reasonably high, usually stay pretty close to recent literature.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of diversity falls outside this realm.

Wouldn't if be cool if all of these datasets were interconnected in a way
that not only allowed the algorithmic analysis I described in my previous
post to alert these "meta-authorities" when one of their declarations about
synonym or classification deviated substantially from the collective
literature, but also exposed the data in such a way that made it very easy
for taxonomists to provide instant feedback?  I bet we could develop such an
infrastructure -- it would probably take about ten years and cost about $50
million; but DAMN it would make my job as taxonomist much easier! We just
need to think of a catchy name, with a simple three-letter acronym....


(Designated cheerleader for any large-scale initiative that might bring
cohesion to taxonomic data exchange and access...)

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