[Taxacom] (no subject)

John Grehan calabar.john at gmail.com
Thu Feb 27 13:25:02 CST 2014

A colleague recently sent me the following paper. Overestimation of
molecular and modelling methods and underestimation of traditional taxonomy
leads to real problems in assessing and handling of the world's biodiversity
IVAN LÖBL 2014 Zootaxa 3768 (4): 497-500

It presented a summary critique of the way some aspects of molecular
methods are being applied to biodiversity study.

 I have excerpted a couple of paragraphs below.

Climbing a steep trail above Morgins, in the Swiss Alps, 12 year-old Thomas
noticed an odd creature balancing on a
branch. The animal was about two cm long, black with numerous light spots
on its back, and with the head extended by a
trunk reminiscent of that of an elephant. Unfortunately, neither his
parents, nor later his teacher, were able to satisfy
Thomas' eager curiosity to discover what kind of animal he had encountered.
Not so long ago, any teacher would have
known it is a beetle, and any teacher with at least a slight interest in
nature would probably have recognized a weevil.
Today, this kind of knowledge is disappearing even among biologists, whose
ability to recognize forms of life may be
reduced to that of Thomas; a paradox, given that there are numerous
environmental organisations and societies active all
around the world. This comes at a time when the effects of humans on the
environment are reaching a tipping point, so
we need more than ever reliable information about the world's
biodiversity.The assessment of diversity in species-rich groups of
organisms requires long-term studies such as taxonomic
revisions, faunal lists, and catalogues. The work often results in
extensive publications, like the new beetle catalogue,
that may be published in ways that exclude them from the current means of
metric scientific evaluation. This problem
was already highlighted many times (e.g., Shubert 2002, Lawrence 2007,
Calver 2013) and in some fields it may result in
a situation comparable to that of genetics in the former Soviet Union,
suppressed in the 1950s because it was considered
incompatible with the dominating ideology. Actually, many professionals
face pressure to address problems that may be
resolved within short time frames to achieve higher scores in evaluation
(Shubert 2002). Thus, large-scale works,
however valuable, may be disadvantageous for professional development due
to a long term commitment and postponed
results as opposed to short term projects and quick results. Dedicating a
part of one's professional life to building up
expertise in taxonomy, and studying large collections of poorly known
animals, may become counterproductive as a
career choice, particularly in many universities that almost excluded such
goals from their research programmes
(Klausnitzer 2010). Amongst the authors of the beetle catalogue, only 60%
are or were professional taxonomists, the
others treated taxonomy in their private capacity.

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