[Taxacom] [tdwg] Semantic Web: What is a species?

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Mon Jan 26 12:45:39 CST 2009

I think of it in the same way that I think of the Ideal gas model.  It works
fine, provided the appropriate context.  But more sophisticated equations
are needed if & when the context warrants it. Physicists have no problem
with this approach to rationalizing the natural world in a way that enables
practical applications, without forgetting the underlying complexities that
are really at play.

So I think it's fine to make hypotheses and predictions based on the "Ideal
Species Model", where species exist as natural entities with only minimally
"fuzzy" boundaries, as a sort of first-order assumption. But when those
hypotheses and predictions don't pan out, then one of the first things to
examine is the assumption of "ISM" applicability (i.e., whether the "fuzzy"
zones are proportionally more significant, or even dominant).

In my world, as an "alpha-taxonomist", I often encounter cases where the ISM
breaks down. But I suspect that, in the majority of cases where the notion
of "species" is applied, the ISM serves the needs adequately.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Richard Zander [mailto:Richard.Zander at mobot.org] 
> Sent: Monday, January 26, 2009 5:24 AM
> To: Richard Pyle; tdwg at lists.tdwg.org; Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: RE: [Taxacom] [tdwg] Semantic Web: What is a species?
> This is a good balance between scientific realism and total 
> subjectivity, but then what is the difference between 
> treating something as real for pragmatic purposes though 
> harboring reservations, and thinking it is real with no 
> reservations? Feedback from the great Out There when you are wrong?
> *****************************
> Richard H. Zander
> Voice: 314-577-0276
> Missouri Botanical Garden
> PO Box 299
> St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA
> richard.zander at mobot.org
> Web sites: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/
> and http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/bfna/bfnamenu.htm
> *****************************
> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Pyle
> Sent: Saturday, January 24, 2009 6:55 PM
> To: tdwg at lists.tdwg.org; Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] [tdwg] Semantic Web: What is a species?
> > How do others think of species?
> I do not think that species are any more "real" than 
> subspecies, genera, and families. I believe all of these 
> things are abstract notions representing aggregate sets of 
> individual organisms, defined and labelled by humans in a way 
> that allows us to communicate with each other with some 
> degree of efficiency (though certainly not perfect efficiency).
> Having said that, I think it is highly practical in many 
> cases to treat units of "species" as though they were 
> cohesive, singular, "real"
> entities
> that exist in nature (within a given slice of geologic time) 
> independantly of human interpretations, because doing so also 
> facilitates communication.
> This is particularly true in cases characterized by 
> realtively broad periods/populations of phenetic and/or 
> genetic stasis, homogeneity and consistency, punctuated by 
> relatively small periods/populations of phenetic and/or 
> genetic divergence, heterogeneity and spectral forms. I think 
> the dangers and problems (nomenclatural instability, poorly 
> supported hypotheses, confusing and conflicting lines of 
> evidence) are most evident when people attempt to apply 
> assumptions based on the "reality" of species to cases that 
> are not so characterized. 

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