[Taxacom] the hurdle for all biodiv informatics initiatives

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Wed Feb 24 23:26:29 CST 2010

I disagree even less frequently with the Don, but what I said was:

'In N.Z., probably 95% or so of all (not just known, but ALL) terrestrial species [excluding micro-organisms] in the wild are in collections, but many still unrecognised in bulk samples etc. The problem is that many of them are only represented in collections by insufficient material, but until we know that, we don't know what to TARGET in the field, and so we just end up collecting more and more bulk samples full of the common taxa ...'

Hence, I was talking specifically about N.Z., where habitats are relatively stable. Australia (and elsewhere) might be different. I believe that in the neotropics, it is difficult to find the same species twice - every sample contains completely new ones.

At any rate, though, I still see problems with a "field first" approach. I think Don doesn't quite see what I mean. What I am seeing happen in NZ entomology, is just more and more money spent on field trips (with or without helicopters!), collecting more and more bulk samples from the same old places, and nobody spending much time to pick through them except for a few very targetted taxa - but they have no idea how many of these are already in collections because nobody has sorted through the historical stuff! 

Don says >I regarded my job as being as much about getting good samples into our cabinets as describing what was there already

I agree, if you mean fully sorting and curating at least a reasonable proportion of what you are collecting, but not just filling shelves in some dark corner with more and more boxes of bulk samples, many of which start deteriorating quite quickly ...

From: Don.Colless at csiro.au [Don.Colless at csiro.au]
Sent: Thursday, 25 February 2010 5:07 p.m.
To: Stephen Thorpe
Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] the hurdle for all biodiv informatics initiatives

I don't often disagree with Stephen, but a lot depends on the state of local collections. While a CSIRO Dipterist, I spent a lot of my working time on just plain collecting, in the near certainty that much habitat would soon disappear and with it the fauna - as witnessed by the species collected, say, in southern sclerophyll forests in the 1930's, that can no longer be found anywhere. I regarded my job as being as much about getting good samples into our cabinets as describing what was there already. I could not, of course, resist putting on record some of the stranger elements of our fauna!

Donald H. Colless
CSIRO Div of Entomology
GPO Box 1700
Canberra 2601
don.colless at csiro.auRichard:
tuz li munz est miens envirun

From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe [s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz]
Sent: 24 February 2010 16:21
To: Richard Pyle; Rees, Tony (CMAR, Hobart); jim.croft at gmail.com
Cc: Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] the hurdle for all biodiv informatics initiatives

Richard Pyle said:
'Taxonomists are so poorly funded these days, that I'd rather see them (us) spend their (our) precious little time in the field (like I was this morning, on a Fijian reef), than waste their time sitting at a computer (like I am right now).'

Well, actually, I'd like to see them spending more of their (paid) time DOING TAXONOMY, which may or may not involve the field (there are plenty of undescribed taxa already in collections ...)


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