[Taxacom] Why Australians are more real than Americans: implications for taxonomy!

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Sun Sep 6 16:11:53 CDT 2009

Key words: Taxon concepts, identification

Yes, Richard, species ARE real entities in the world! They might not have existed in a world where there was an unbroken continuum between diverse morphologies, but in our world there are "gaps" which break the biotic realm up into species.

OK, forget the minor complications posed by Hawaii and Tasmania.
In order to understand the U.S.A., you need to know where the political borders with Canada and Mexico are. This is analogous to a taxon concept.
By contrast, in order to understand Australia, all you need to do is stick a flag in the ground anywhere within Australia, and declare that Australia is all the land in all directions until you get to the sea. You need not know where the coastline is.

Species are like Australia, not like U.S.A.
Sticking a flag in the ground is like designating a holotype
When you identify a specimen, you are asserting that it is on the same "island" as the type of that species, but you need not have any understanding at all of where the "coastline" is. That is determined by the world, not by us ...

So, if someone identifies a specimen as being Centropyge fisheri, what matters is where the species boundaries actually are, not where the identifier thinks they are. Otherwise they would simply be correct or not relative to their taxon concept, when in fact the identification is correct or not depending on a discoverable feature of the world...


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