[Taxacom] New paper by a mob who wish to make taxonomy obsolete

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sat Oct 10 16:29:57 CDT 2015

Read this one and weep! Evaluating a multigene environmental DNA approach for biodiversity assessment doi: 10.1186/s13742-015-0086-1

It is one of the best funded biology projects in this part of the world right now. Basically, a bunch of gel jockeys without a taxonomic clue want to convince government agencies like the Department of Conservation that they can answer all the important ecological questions without needing taxonomists. My problem is a complete lack of confidence that their evaluation of the approach will be balanced. I am worried that they will play up the positives and play down the negatives. I see they got apparent DNA from Porifera and Echinodermata in their soil samples, but blame this on errors in GenBank. Well, maybe, but without taxonomy, GenBank is going to always be full of such errors, and how many other errors didn't they notice? These were just the blindingly obvious errors. The paper seems to be written in such a way as to discourage the reader from wading through it in detail in order to check that their conclusions are well supported by their data.

I did attend a talk related to this project, which was a bit more balanced (but unfortunately only a talk). They found that, for higher plants, the method was only detecting the common species, but they were "optimistic" that the situation would improve given sufficient time and additional funding! Also, of course, DNA can't tell you what life stage was present. Even if the method was more sensitive, pollen, seeds or spores may be present in a spot unsuitable for development of the species, and I don't see a way of knowing that, if all you have is a sequence.


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