[Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Oct 16 15:12:20 CDT 2014

Yes, Geoff, I fully agree, and indeed my concern here is not so much the possibility of funding opportunities tainting research, but rather this more general issue: taxonomy, like all science, is rarely if ever conclusive, but only as good as the evidence (the "extinct" snail is a good example). So, on the one hand, people need to realise this, and perhaps not be so surprised if the snail is rediscovered. But what is wrong is the difficulty in publishing counterevidence, unless it is either conclusive (which it hardly ever is, and why should it have to be, when the original evidence wasn't conclusive either?), or else it is sneaked into a much larger piece of work (but this takes the focus off it and makes it more likely to be overlooked). My beetle example is Syrphetodes relictus Leschen & Buckley 2014. There are several "new species" described in the same paper (doi: 10.1111/syen.12094), some of them have been recognised for decades, and are clearly
 good species, but there are a few which struck me by surprise, and which seem to be based on very flimsy evidence. The paper is spun very much in terms of biogeographical and conservation implications (as its title suggests). Although I am dubious about 4 of their "new species", I only have definite counterevidence for S. relictus. So, they have described S. relictus from one location within the former island of Te Paki, and claim it to be allopatric with the more widespread and not threatened S. decoratus. The have sequenced a few specimens of both, and the molecular evidence, while consistent with two species, is inconclusive. Morphologically, they use just one character in diagnosis and key to separate the species (10th antennal segment about as long as wide in S. decoratus, but about twice as long as wide in S. relictus). Other characters are mentioned only in the full descriptions, but they are all rather minor/vague and/or don't correspond with
 their own illustrations. My counterevidence is twofold: (1) they identified a specimen from "Kohuroa" (not knowing where this place was) as S. decoratus, but I can prove that Kohuroa is in Te Paki; and (2) I have a specimen from as far away from Te Paki as S. decoratus gets, and its 10th antennal segment is twice as long as wide. I tried to get a short note published setting out this counterevidence. I didn't/couldn't conclude that S. relictus isn't a good species, only that the whole issue needs revisiting in a much more careful way. I also pointed out that it is now impossible to recognise S. relictus with any confidence, since both allopatry and the single morphological diagnostic character are both undermined by my evidence. Reviewers said stuff like: (1) Is it certain that S. relictus is a good species? No. But it is certain enough! (2) So what if the key character doesn't work, there are plenty of other characters that might work! They also said
 that my counterevidence was unconvincing against what to them seemed like a thorough and competent revision (despite characters not agreeing with illustrations thereof, miscoded characters in the phylogenetic analysis, etc.)


On Thu, 16/10/14, Geoffrey Read <gread at actrix.gen.nz> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae
 To: "Stephen Thorpe" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 Received: Thursday, 16 October, 2014, 8:06 PM
  I think
 I see fictional species and poor research now and then,
 regardless of how funded. I disapprove of all
 science that my experience
 qualifies me to
 assess as dubious and I'd rather those papers
 exist, whether it's
 inadequately researched new species or unverified
 marine aliens.
 Thu, October 16, 2014 6:17 pm, Stephen Thorpe wrote:
 >>It is pragmatic, even vital, to slant
 work to appear relevant to the
 available honey pot of funding<
 > So, you have no problem with fictional
 species erected for "pragmatic"
 > [=economic] reasons, then Geoff?!
 > Stephen
 > On Thu, 16/10/14, Geoffrey Read <gread at actrix.gen.nz>
 >  Subject:
 Re: [Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae
 >  To: "Stephen Thorpe" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 >  Cc: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu,
 gread at actrix.gen.nz
 >  Received: Thursday, 16 October, 2014,
 5:58 PM
 >  It is
 pragmatic, even
 >  vital, to slant work
 to appear relevant to the
 >  available
 honey pot of funding. Same happens in
 marine invasive species
 >  work (well
 >  where there is some very
 dodgy data on obscure taxa
 irrationally declared as aliens, an even more
 >  unwise science process than
 >  quickly
 >  declaring
 tiny land critters extinct.
 >  I just tried to alert IUCN redlist that
 >  aldabrae was not as extinct as
 >  they would
 >  have
 us believe (yes they probably know that given the
 >  publicity), but couldn't get a link
 >  worked.
 >  Their definition of
 >  qualifying for extinction seems
 reasonable if strictly
 >  enforced, as
 it requires exhaustive surveys and
 >  no
 reasonable doubt, but I
 >  recall a
 >  number of de-extinctions in
 recent years.
 >  On Thu, October 16, 2014 2:14 pm,
 >  Thorpe wrote:
 >  > Yes, I have a vaguely
 >  similar case from N.Z., where a new
 species of
 >  > beetle (medium sized
 and flightless) has
 >  just been
 described on the
 >  > flimsiest of
 >  evidence (and I have some definite, but
 >  > evidence against
 it being a new species),
 >  claimed to
 be restricted to one
 >  > tiny
 >  location and sparse even there. My
 attempts to publish a
 >  short note
 >  > to flag the issue hit a
 >  brick wall. My note was rejected as
 being "purely
 >  >
 negative" and "contributing
 nothing". Well, given that conservation
 >  > resources are limited, and that
 there is a
 >  pot of money for research
 >  > such
 species of potential conservation concern, I would say
 >  it is
 > very important to point out the
 flaws in relevant published taxonomy.
 >  Without such scrutiny,
 taxonomists could manufacture
 "new species" just to
 >  >
 >  hold of said conservation
 funding. My evidence against this
 >  > means that there is no
 way to
 >  recognise it (either
 morphologically or
 >  >
 >  geographically), which makes the
 assessment of
 >  >  its conservation
 status a bit tricky!
 >  >
 >  > Stephen
 >  >
 >  > On Thu, 16/10/14, Geoff Read <gread at actrix.gen.nz>
 >  wrote:
 >  >
 >  >  Subject:
 [Taxacom] De-extinction & Rhachistia aldabrae
 >  >  To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 >  >  Received: Thursday, 16 October,
 >  1:34 PM
 >  >  A
 cautionary tale if your study
 >  critters are a little on the
 small side.
 >  >
 >  >  http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/10/10/20140771
 >  > 
 > http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/41223/title/Snail-Revival-Raises-Peer-Review-Debate/

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