[Taxacom] New species of the future

Mary Barkworth Mary.Barkworth at usu.edu
Wed Oct 30 10:21:47 CDT 2013

The paper did not change what is expected of others but it highlights possibilities that some may wish to use. I will probably never publish a paper like it but I am delighted that it is possible and not just a lot of hot air about what is possible. Yes, the authors could have published multiple papers, each in a different journal, and trusted those who are interested to link them up. They chose not to. Bravo!  Accelerate the output? I suspect that those multiple papers would take more of the authors' time. Do not know - just think it likely. Throughput to publication - hard to beat. Finding information about this organism and using that information to look at all the other aspects used to look at things related to ogranisms (size, color, habitat, images) will be a whole lot easier than for most organisms both because all the information is in one place and because it has been shared with so many kinds of data aggregators. So, well done all concerned. 

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of JF Mate
Sent: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 9:06 AM
To: Taxacom
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] New species of the future

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 output?

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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