[Taxacom] Semantic Web: What is a species?

Peter DeVries pete.devries at gmail.com
Sat Jan 24 16:06:19 CST 2009

An interesting side discussion started up from my earlier post and I thought
it might beworth discussion on the general list. I expect there will be a
number of different opinions on
this subject which might prove enlightening.

What is a species?

The way I have constructed my system I consider species to be real things
too which different
taxonomic hypothesis are applied.

A collector or curator would then decide which species concept they believe
is the best match
for their specimen or group of specimens.

Those individuals would then be tied to a particular species concept. (Not
necessarily a specific genus species)

Statements or properties could then be associated with particular species

For instance:

This Culicidoid species concept is a member of the Anophelinoid Group and
thereby inherits
the following properties:

  Maxillary palps about as long as proboscus, not strongly recurved
  Scutellum evenly rounded
  Scutellum seta more or less evenly distributed
  Most like diagram http://.....

I am not sure that you could make useful statements like this if specimens
are abstracted as an array of
names, and if species are not real things that are separate from individual
taxonomic hypothesis.

Note I use Anophelinoid rather than Anophelinae to avoid tying this group of
morphological characters to
a specific taxonomic hypothesis.

Under this model genera, families and subspecies (as they are now used) are
thought of as human constructed
clades and are not real in the same sense as species are real. A species
exists whether or not a human
has chosen to describe and name it.

There also seems to be a difference in how ecologists, medical entomologists
and taxonomists think of species.
The former tend to view species as real things while the later see them as a
human constructed grouping, where
the taxonomic hypothesis is the species concept.

>From the perspective of the semantic web, species concepts defined in these
different ways have different
meanings and may not be able to be merged directly. At least that is my
current thinking ....

How do others think of species?
Pete DeVries
Department of Entomology
University of Wisconsin - Madison
445 Russell Laboratories
1630 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706

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