[Taxacom] Costello on species again: new paper

Étienne Léveillé-Bourret etienne.leveille-bourret at umontreal.ca
Sun Jun 9 20:31:02 CDT 2013


"We are in a different era relative to collection, for many reasons, 
perhaps some good and some bad, but nonetheless a different era."

Well, could it be that, similarly, we are in a different era relative to description of new species?

Maybe taxonomists have less time to describe species, because they also do phylogenetics, evolutionary biology, etc. ?

Maybe describing a species now takes more time, either because the expectations of other scientists are higher, or because the species that remain to be described in some groups are the ones that are harder to find or differentiate?


If it was the case, I guess it could explain part of the trends observed by Costello et al. and some other investigators in recent papers.

Étienne L.-B.


> From: weakley at bio.unc.edu
> To: markcost at gmail.com; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2013 12:43:20 +0000
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Costello on species again: new paper
> 
> We are in a different era relative to collection, for many reasons, perhaps some good and some bad, but nonetheless a different era.  
> 
> In botany, they are sometimes referred to as "haybalers", the collector who racks up 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 numbers.  There is now less need for this (in botany, in most parts of the world), less support for it, and less available collection space and curatorial support.
> 
> Some collectors collect almost compulsively.  "It's a fine day.  I'm going to get in my car and collect whatever is in nice flower or fruit in the next county over"  And thus we get (at my herbarium) the 25th and 50th collections of common roadside weeds from that county.
> 
> Now, some of these "almost random" collections will prove useful, immediately or in a hundred years, so, it does take all kinds.
> 
> Some years ago, I had a colleague, A, now in his 80s, who sneered at another colleague, B, now in his 60s, because B had only 10,000 "numbers", while A had 50,000.  A was an academic, and of his generation, had had the (paid) opportunity to collect extensively at a field station in Costa Rica, had summers off, had a full-time paid assistant to prepare his labels, mount his specimens, and curate them.  B worked as an environmental consultant, with no such advantages.  Still, as an herbarium director and if forced to choose, I would take B's 10,000 over A's 50,000.  B's 10,000 were each collected for a careful reason:  documenting a range extension, collecting a possible new species, collecting a population with unusual characteristics, documenting a new alien naturalizing in the region, collecting an apparently known species in a novel habitat (because, who knows?).  On average, they are scientifically much more valuable specimens.  Of course, I would actually want to have both the 10,000 and the 50,000.  :-)
> 
> Alan Weakley
> Director and Curator, UNC Herbarium (NCU), North Carolina Botanical Garden
> Adjunct Assistant Professor, Dept. of Biology and Curriculum in Ecology and the Environment
> University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
> 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Mark J. Costello
> Sent: Saturday, June 08, 2013 11:08 PM
> To: TAXACOM
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Costello on species again: new paper
> 
> Dear Étienne
> Thank you for the comment. I agree that such a decline is likely for several
> reasons: that it is not considered necessary to collect the same species of plants again, limited storage space in herbaria, transport costs for larger specimens. 
> Best regards
> Mark 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Étienne Léveillé-Bourret
> Sent: Sunday, 9 June 2013 3:51 a.m.
> To: Taxacom
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Costello on species again: new paper
> 
> There is another trend that seems to exist in botany and that would be worth investigating.
> Working in a herbarium, one often notices a big difference in the number of plants old botanists used to collect during their field trips compared to the number of plants botanists now collect when in the field. The old botanists were probably interested in having a lot of specimens for exchanges etc.
> 
> I bet that if Costello et al. studied this phenomenon, they would find a statistically significant decline in the number of plants collected per taxonomist during the last couple of decades. They would probably suggest that this decline in the number of collected plants per taxonomist, despite the scientists' greater ability to explore and sample the habitats, means that it is getting harder and harder to find plants in the wild... ?!
> 
> Or not.
> 
> 
> Étienne L.-B.
> 
> 
> > From: xelaalex at cox.net
> > To: aphodiinaemate at gmail.com; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> > Date: Sat, 8 Jun 2013 10:58:47 -0400
> > Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Costello on species again: new paper
> > 
> > All:
> > 
> > As an older RETIRED taxonomist, I can verify that Jason has hit the mark.
> > 
> > I know of and have vouchers of some 500 new species of flower flies
> > (Insecta: Diptera: Syrphidae).
> > 
> > However, today the standards for new species descriptions have greatly 
> > increased, but FUNDing for taxonomists has greatly DECREASED. So, 
> > those vouchers sit in the collection (Smithsonian/USNM) undescribed as 
> > there is
> no 
> > funds to take images of the types and prepare the other now required
> things. 
> > [I recently had a reviewer ask why I did not get a DNA barcode, that 
> > is, submit part of the type (a leg) for analysis, etc.)
> > 
> > Give me just a faction of what these new molecular "systematists" are 
> > getting in grants, etc., I could easily clear up my back log of species.
> > Unfortunately, no one wants to fund simply old fashioned ALPHA taxonomy.
> So 
> > the rate of new species descriptions goes down.
> > 
> > And when studies in Ecology and related sciences need species level 
> > identification, one simply gets "species A; B; C; etc.")
> > 
> > Oh, well ...
> > 
> > Sincerely,
> > 
> > Chris
> > 
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: JF Mate
> > Sent: Saturday, June 08, 2013 8:52 AM
> > To: Taxacom
> > Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Costello on species again: new paper
> > 
> > They seem to be taking a leaf out of ECON 101 and developing a 
> > taxonomic
> > GDP: GTP or Gross Taxonomic Product. It has worked really well for the 
> > economy so I can imagine all the positive applications for science 
> > (akin
> to
> > Impact Factor) for tenure, funding, etc.
> > 
> > On a more serious note, I wonder if you can compare output across time 
> > the way they seem to do. Without wanting to stir the proverbial 
> > bucket, maybe taxonomists are (in general) just gathering more data 
> > for each
> description?
> > There is the issue of tidying-up previous work, incorporating 
> > phylogenetic information into the descriptions (more data gathering 
> > plus analysis); tracking down types, etc. One only needs to look at 
> > descriptions from the 60´s to see that you could have fit them in an 
> > A5 double spaced, often
> with
> > a single, rather crude illustration. Good luck getting that out 
> > nowadays and not be laughed out ;)
> > 
> > Jason
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > On 8 June 2013 11:44, Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz> wrote:
> > 
> > > Costello, M.J.; Wilson, S.; Houlding, B. 2013: More taxonomists
> describing
> > > significantly fewer species per unit effort may indicate that most
> species
> > > have been discovered. Systematic biology, doi: 10.1093/sysbio/syt024
> > >
> > > This seems to be "all over the place" - as per usual ...
> > >
> > > Stephen
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