[Taxacom] New species of the future

JF Mate aphodiinaemate at gmail.com
Wed Oct 30 10:06:12 CDT 2013

To Dave Kirk and Lyubomir:

We are discussing two separate things here. On the one hand we have the
rise of digital, media-rich publications. To me multiple sources of
information added to a description or any other paper for that matter is a
plus. As an exercise or proof of concept I see the angle of the paper. But
deep down it is a PR exercise, which no doubt is necessary in these days of
shrinking budgets. But if this is the case, expensive descriptions are not
going to enhance biodiversity inventorying.

My argument is that a big portion of the cost is down to the cybertype
and the transcriptome. I can see the applications of the CT scans, though I
would argue that a cyber-type can also take other forms. The transcriptome
though is superfluous. I understand that BGI wants to do its 1000
transcriptome project but really, not useful in this specific case. Its use
is more like a placeholder for a genome or as another bit of data added for
sales purposes. Nothing wrong, simply rather pointless. Maybe if the paper
had included several stages and both genders or done a comparison across
several close species, then I could understand its inclusion.

This brings me to the issue of expectations by "people" (not sure who you
are referring to). People have multiple expectations but surely a common
one should be the ability to successfully discriminate species X from all
other previously described species. At its most basic, people just want a
name. After that come the questions: what does it do; is it dangerous;
rare, etc. But the first step is establishing that this group of organisms
is different from the other groups we have previously defined, and it is
identified for human purposes with this label.

In this respect taxonomy is very economical, probably  the most economical
aspect of biology, yet the argument here is that before spending a small
amount of resources describing organisms we should spend a bunch to
determine if they are worthy of description in the first place. Ignoring
the problems with this economic model, who determines what is worthy?
Chalara fraxinea or Agrilus planipennis were probably not very interesting
when first described. You cannot determine a priori the value of a species,
and often it requires decades to build a basic picture of the biology and
ecology of each one. So how exactly is this model going to accelerate the

When it comes to cost "(5) The effort was huge, the costs are there, but
the project is not that
expensive as one might think. It is surely cheaper if compared to the costs of
an expedition to a tropical country to collect new species that will (probably)
be never described." Yes, an expedition to the tropics to collect material
is costly, probably more than a single description, but that is comparing
apples and oranges. I am sure that spelunking for critters is costly as
well, more so if we work out the cost per new species uncovered, but what
we are discussing here is taxonomy. How Laputan taxonomy would improve
access to funds is an open question, unless things have changed a lot
lately and resources are infinite.

So to me point 3 in Lyubomir´s list is the paper the aim of the paper, and
there is nothing wrong with it, but the rest, including taxonomy, is at
best incidental.



P.S. "tight adherence to the Old Ways is not going to ensure the survival
of taxonomy" not the best sales pitch

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