[Taxacom] All levels of organisation and manifestation should be acknowledged for the classificatory and evolutionary value that is inherent in them

Ashley Nicholas Nicholasa at ukzn.ac.za
Thu Nov 8 08:56:50 CST 2012


Right - let me put my head on the chopping block!



One of the disturbing things about modern classificatory paradigms is that a whole level of organisation (organismal morphology) is being written off as scientifically worthless. Am I the only one who is scared by empirical scientific implications of this?



I personally think this is bad science. Biodiversity presents us with information at the molecular, genetic, organismal, physiological and ecological levels and data from all level gives us important information about how organisms manifest and change with time. The acceptance of strict monophyly is allowing scientists to discount groups of organisms defined by unique morphologies. These groups are valid and could easily be accepted under a paraphyletic classification. This is possibly arguable, but if we are to create classifications in which data from all levels of organisation are acknowledged for the value that is inherent in them, then we must accept paraphyly. Besides all new major evolutionary lines start off as paraphyletic side branches -- and paraphyly says a great deal about the way in which organisms and groups evolve. By removing paraphyly we remove the possibility of investigating some very intriguing evolutionary questions - that I feel need to explored rather than ignored.



Everyone seems focused on the morphological versus molecular and monophyletic versus paraphyletic battlefields. There are other levels of organization which we neglect at our scientific peril.



At the end no matter the evidence used (morphological or molecular) classifications that are extrapolated from this evidence only hypotheses. Hypotheses are merely concepts out there for further verification or falsification. They are not the truth. Despite what outsiders may think scientists live in a world of uncertainty and all good scientists will embrace this fact.  As a professional taxonomist I live (in my head) in a world of multiple taxonomies and classifications base on the same organisms. Why are we so fixated on having only one classification? I wish other scientists and funders would stop trying to put me into either the morphological or molecular box. As a scientist I refuse to limit myself like this -- the organismal diversity I walk through when I am in the bush is more than just morphology and molecules. I do not see any good scientific reason to abandon information from other levels of manifestation.



Ashley

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Ashley Nicholas (PhD)

Associate Professor & Curator Ward Herbarium

School of Life Science,  Westville Campus

University of KwaZulu-Natal,

Private Bag X54001,

Durban, 4000, South Africa

Tel.:+27-31-260 7719 Fax.: +27-31-260 2029

nicholasa at ukzn.ac.za

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Let's not continue to fool ourselves, we are no longer sititing at the edge of the cliff of "environmental disaster", we have gone over that edge. - Ashley Nicholas (at the moment six cities the size of Johannesburg are added to the world every year)

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