[Taxacom] response to 60 new dragonfly species paper ("Rod thread")

KD Dijkstra kd.dijkstra at naturalis.nl
Tue Dec 15 03:46:49 CST 2015

Dear taxonomic community,

Many thanks for the responses to our recent publication of 60 new African
dragonfly species, which Ellinor kindly posted for me. I'm now able to
react and give some background myself. Our primary purpose was to have the
names available as quickly as possible, while once more pleading the case
of the disappearing taxonomic expert. As comments focused on both the
paper's form (let's call it the "Rod thread") and the media message
("Stephen thread"), and a lot of ground was covered, I'll respond to the
latter in a later email.

On the personal side, my two co-authors have day jobs and study the insects
they love in their free hours. I jump from one grant to the next odd job,
as scientists often have to. The write-up was enabled by a six-month grant,
half of which I reinvested in applying for new grants. The 60 names were
needed for our ongoing efforts to get dragonflies applied more in
freshwater conservation in Africa. Steps so far have been a species-level
handbook, a complete Red List (probably the first for a tropical insect
group), and all 127 000 records on GBIF (except for the 60 new species, as
GBIF needs names first...). In the next months we'll get all 760 species'
identification, range maps, habitat details and indicator value online and
give 80 trainees from 20 African countries their first introduction to
freshwater entomology.

With three months to describe 60 species*, we opted for a stripped-down
approach (please read the intro). GenBank and ZooBank are important
platforms, but if I must chose between more taxonomic admin and getting
those species assessed for the Red List or worked into a field guide, my
priorities are clear. So with a "minimalist" approach, we wanted to
demonstrate how to deal with the urgency. (Mind you, it's still 232 pages
for 60 species!)

For example, why upload sequences to GenBank that are already on BOLD?
Also, if cyber-taxonomy can deliver the integration it promises, necessary
data can be mined from a well-structured text. Computers can process data,
but not discover species in the field or coin meaningful names. Indeed, the
paper was immediately picked up by some helpful cyber-taxonomists to show
how easily "traditional" rapid naming can be disclosed online: everything
is now registered on Plazi and ZooBank, and ready for GBIF and Wikidata. We
even had a small cyber-taxonomic revolution: for the first time unique
identifier numbers generated in Plazi were accepted in Zoobank, rather than
the reverse.

As said, the chosen approach was practical, but also intended to bare the
challenges to taxonomic expertise today (more on that later). With
dragonflies we are lucky that interest has actually boomed in the last
decades, with a steady flow of new field guides. Interest from science and
conservation is now increasing too, e.g. dragonflies are perhaps the most
prominent insects in IUCN's red-listing efforts. However, this surge was
realized largely by "amateurs". Our paper's support too came from this
community. Not in the form of money, but interest. The choice to publish in
Odonatologica (also run on private commitment!) was therefore obvious: give
back to those who care most. So we ensured it would be accessible freely!

Cheers, KD

* Both paper and press release state that while 80% of Odonata species may
be named, perhaps only a fraction of eukaryotes are. So while 60 species at
once isn't exceptional in the grand scheme of things (e.g. beetles), it is
for this specific order. 60 species add 1% to the known diversity in
Odonata, the equivalent in Coleoptera is >3500. It adds 5% to what
odonatologists think is left to name, which could equate to >25,000 in
Coleoptera. So perhaps our job was indeed "easy"... ;o)

Klaas-Douwe 'KD' B. Dijkstra
Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, The Netherlands
Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Sixty new dragonfly species from Africa:
Press release: https://goo.gl/KGMsyC
Info and images: https://goo.gl/vRoJSL
Full publication: www.osmylus.com/index.php/downloads
Watch discovery of new species in DR Congo: youtu.be/Arr2k7dwzSU

Handbook of African Dragonflies:
Freshwater Biodiversity and Aquatic Insect Diversification:
Consensus classification of dragonflies:
Most complete damselfly phylogeny to date:

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