[Taxacom] response to 60 new dragonfly species campaign ("Stephen thread")

Mary Barkworth Mary.Barkworth at usu.edu
Wed Dec 16 05:32:26 CST 2015

Well said.  
-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of KD Dijkstra
Sent: Wednesday, December 16, 2015 4:10 AM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Cc: Nicolas Meziere <nicomez at free.fr>; Florian Weihrauch <florian.weihrauch at t-online.de>; Jens Kipping <biocartkipping at email.de>; Florian Weihrauch <Florian.Weihrauch at lfl.bayern.de>; Jan Tol, van <jan.vantol at naturalis.nl>
Subject: [Taxacom] response to 60 new dragonfly species campaign ("Stephen thread")

Dear taxonomic community,

As elaborated in my previous email, the "urgent" form chosen for our recent publication of 60 new African dragonfly species was practical, but also intended to bare the challenges to taxonomic expertise today. That's not news, but still necessary.

Institutes are hiring staff to conserve and database our collections, informaticians to share and accumulate our records, macro-ecologists to analyse our data, lab technicians to barcode our samples, and genomicists to generate more data still. Conservationists, consultants and enthusiasts clamour for our species knowledge. All of this has made our expertise more important. This is fantastic. And yet, how often do we see a job ad for someone to study those specimens, validate those records, interpret those analyses and basically do anything grounded in an actual familiarity with the species? As support decreased, pressure on our expertise has increased.

Biodiversity science seems to be hurtling towards a state where all available data may be accessible, but where fewer and fewer people know what these data mean. As one museum department slaves to preserve and digitize the collections as "heritage", another is discouraged to study them because "science" won't support it. That could ultimately leave us with big data and grand analyses, but no understanding. For example, none of the world's great Odonata collections has a dedicated researcher anymore. Just serving the tens of thousands worldwide who simply enjoy these insects' beauty, would make it worth it.

I often feel that taxonomy's greatest impediment is the lack of a common ideal. Concerned with many millions of species we can't really be blamed for being divided, but it does weaken our front. Sometimes taxonomists almost seem to invite management (that may not fathom taxonomy's true
value) to sideline them by failing to unite and be held accountable. Yes, taxonomy's demise seems like a witch hunt, complete with false accusations ("not scientific", "not cited well" etc.), but we must also beware of our own self-righteousness and dissent. Does disparaging my discoveries help those who described scores of ground beetles from Hawaii or Stephen and his taxonomic achievements? I don't believe so.

The tragedy of species loss makes taxonomic expertise more important than ever before. It also provides us with a common purpose. True, we are unlikely to save the canon fodder from the canons, but we can at least mark their graves. So we should broadcast every species we discover. And we should promote every specialist that really knows them. A central social media feed is a brilliant idea. Give authors the option to approve this and supply basic info (e.g. family or vernacular name). Entice the receiver with an image and the reminder that now perhaps two million species are named, but we have many more millions to go.

I believe the message we were trying to get across can't be repeated enough. The taxonomic expert's future remains tenuous. I don't believe "science" will save the expert, but the public's growing awareness of nature's perilous state just might. Right now, we must constantly gamble with our wisdom: we know it is unique, but also that nothing has become cheaper than knowledge. Also for the African dragonflies we are releasing every bit of intellectual capital we have without any outlook of personal job security. But we must, because what isn't planted is also not going to grow.

Were we successful to get the message out this time? A little at most. So every new contribution needs its campaign.

Cheers, KD

Klaas-Douwe 'KD' B. Dijkstra
Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, The Netherlands Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa science.naturalis.nl/dijkstra jrsbiodiversity.org/grant/stellenbosch_dragonflies/

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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