[Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy

KD Dijkstra kd.dijkstra at naturalis.nl
Fri Jun 2 09:04:19 CDT 2017


What I find notable about most responses (Donat’s and Francisco’s are among
the exceptions) is that they shout “rebuttal!” without actually discussing
the faults and especially merits of the comment. The piece is easy to
trash* as the authors’ understanding of systematics, conservation and
evolution appears about as sophisticated as Noah’s back in the day of the
great flood, but there are some very elemental concerns behind it:

1) How should taxonomy and conservation communicate?
2) Who is responsible for advancing species knowledge?

The authors seem quite unaware of the complexity they rightly wish to
address, but it is true that most conservationists have no appreciation of
taxonomy and (worse still) that most taxonomists have little understanding
of conservation.

For example, the authors refer to CITES and IUCN several times and even say
that support should be expected “of organizations that could benefit most”
such as those two. They seem not to realize that, while intended to benefit
both biodiversity and society, these organizations are barely supported by
society themselves and thus can hardly support taxonomy in turn:

CITES attempts to protect species by regulating trade if they are
identified as threatened. This lays the burden of proof with those who wish
to protect those species, while that burden should lie with those who wish
to profit, i.e. the treaty would only work if it was defined the other way
round: that trade is generally restricted unless a species is proven to be

There is thus no financial mechanism to keep the IUCN Red List of
Threatened Species up-to-date even for most traded species, let alone for
the millions of others. For example, Red List data is also critical in
environmental assessment, but there regulation is so weak and market forces
so strong that while developers are the greatest (be it indirect) users of
this knowledge, it is left largely to charity and voluntary expertise to
keep IUCN informed.

The underlying taxonomy is obviously in the same boat. So at its core the
comment touches on two critical issues: (1) Taxonomy is tied to species
knowledge’s greater impact, of which the other part is the geographic and
ecological data needed in conservation (represented by the IUCN Red List).
(2) If we expect more support for developing that knowledge, we may have to
play by more defendable rules (Red List criteria while not scientifically
ideal are again an obvious parallel).

Unfortunately the authors (and the reacting taxonomists?) are blinded by
their own species concept argument, which seems neither really solvable nor
the most important**. After criticizing taxonomists for their arbitrary
(and thus presumably hasty and ill-conceived) choices, the absurdly
contradictory conclusion that “reducing the time spent dealing with
different species concepts would probably make the task of describing and
cataloguing biodiversity more efficient” sums up the naivety nicely!

But the authors do set out to focus on taxonomy’s importance and impact in
society and, while they do so inelegantly, we should be happy about that.
The taxonomists' response shouldn’t just say what is bad about their
argument, but how it can be improved.

Cheers, KD

* For example, comparison with the committee on virus taxonomy is
irrelevant if the vast majority of taxonomists are volunteers without
access to molecular tools, as is the comparison with defining the
Anthropocene when we’re dealing with delimiting tens of millions of unique
histories (i.e. species).

** The nitty-gritty of definitions is of course quite irrelevant if the
real problem is that 85% (or whatever) of species are unnamed, but that
doesn’t mean that species delimitation in conservation-relevant groups like
mammals and birds isn’t a concern.


*Klaas-Douwe 'KD' B. Dijkstra*
Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, The Netherlands
Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
African Dragonflies and Damselflies Online <http://addo.adu.org.za/>
personal page <http://science.naturalis.nl/dijkstra>


Sir David's Dragonfly (on BBC television)
Restore our sense of species (in Nature)
Sixty new dragonfly species from Africa
Handbook of African Dragonflies
Freshwater Biodiversity and Aquatic Insect Diversification
Consensus classification of dragonflies
Most complete damselfly phylogeny to date

2017-06-02 8:18 GMT+02:00 Donat Agosti <agosti at amnh.org>:

> It is interesting that Nature publishes an article that a legal council is
> needed to solve a scientific issue, and at the same time in an editorial
> calls that " researchers everywhere need to ensure that their voices are
> heard" http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/546007a .
> It is also remarkable, that the scientists call for a new structure - not
> a cheap one with plenty of lawyers involved, nota bene - whilst we struggle
> to maintain even a bare, incomplete infrastructure to handle nomenclatural
> acts, and in fact are not, since 1992, the begin of CBD and the taxonomic
> impediment, able to create a list of the known species of the world, nor a
> service that automatically links all taxonomic treatments and thus makes
> them immediately accessible to the world (but see Pensoft publications or
> Plazi (http://tb.plazi.org/GgServer/static/newToday.html) as examples to
> do otherwise) - something the conservation community has been asking for a
> long time, but didn't make any efforts to get it done neither, and with
> that support the taxonomic community, which is obviously unable to do it by
> themselves.
> Donat
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of
> Karen Wilson
> Sent: Friday, June 2, 2017 7:31 AM
> To: igor pavlinov <ipvl2008 at mail.ru>; Richard Zander <
> Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
> Cc: Taxacom(taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu} <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy
> Yes and  there have also been numerous attempts to explain taxonomy and
> its importance - e.g. other papers in that issue of the Philos.
> Transactions Royal Society ser. B back in 2004: see
> https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%
> 2F%2Frstb.royalsocietypublishing.org%2Fcontent%2F359%2F1444&
> data=01%7C01%7Cagosti%40amnh.org%7C5aca05b3b2ee44ff2bbd08d4
> a978999b%7Cbe0003e8c6b9496883aeb34586974b76%7C0&sdata=y1jXVy
> 0uinFilfaf9THjRJpqzdnuQGarxcfiLn9UPRo%3D&reserved=0
> Perhaps most of those attempts have been preaching to the converted and
> not reaching the right general audience?
> In any case, this present opinion piece certainly needs a well-reasoned
> response.
> Karen Wilson
> ____________________________________________________________
> ____________________________________
> Karen L. Wilson AM
> National Herbarium of New South Wales
> Adjunct Associate Professor, University of New England, Armidale, NSW
> Secretary, General Committee, International Code of Nomenclature for
> Algae, Fungi & Plants
> Botanic Gardens & Centennial Parklands
> T +61 (02) 9231 8137 | E karen.wilson at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au Royal Botanic
> Gardens & Domain Trust, Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of
> igor pavlinov
> Sent: Friday, 2 June 2017 2:54 PM
> To: Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
> Cc: Taxacom(taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu} <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy
> As  a matter of sad fact, this paper is not the first and the only attepmt
> to regulate taxomits' activity  from a pragnamtic standpoint. There is a
> lot of such instances. Just read this paper on "unitary taxonomy" (
> https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%
> 3A%2F%2Fwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov%2Fpubmed%2F15253355&data=01%
> 7C01%7Cagosti%40amnh.org%7C5aca05b3b2ee44ff2bbd08d4a978999b%
> 7Cbe0003e8c6b9496883aeb34586974b76%7C0&sdata=zgJYaQ5LNBPavJd
> GXkrNgKuZw4qXSjVjRjaf0B789Cg%3D&reserved=0) to see such a position is not
> uncommon.
> Practitions use to wish there taxonomic "backbone" is stable and thus
> allows to plane and do their buiseness effectively, While those "anarchic"
> taxonomists devoted to their "anarchic" science disturbe their long-run
> business stategy.
> It is strange that the Nature published this article. It would much more
> strange if it would reject a panel discussion to give researchers a
> possibility to declare there position, actually a scientific one not an
> "applied".
> Igor
> - - -
> Igor Ya. Pavlinov, DrS
> Zoological Museum of Lomonosov Moscow State University ul. Bol'shaya
> Nikitskaya 6
> 125009 Moscow
> Russia
> https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%
> 2F%2Fzmmu.msu.ru%2Fpersonal%2Fpavlinov%2Fpavlinov_eng1.
> htm&data=01%7C01%7Cagosti%40amnh.org%7C5aca05b3b2ee44ff2
> bbd08d4a978999b%7Cbe0003e8c6b9496883aeb34586974b76%7C0&
> sdata=CSMj5H%2FBw%2BOxwfmdkc8WwCZsvdBJOD9K8hskduK7d4M%3D&reserved=0
> >Четверг,  1 июня 2017, 17:57 +03:00 от Richard Zander <
> Richard.Zander at mobot.org>:
> >
> >Another thing for taxonomists to worry about:
> >
> >https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.na
> >ture.com%2Fnews%2Ftaxonomy-anarchy-hampers-conservation-1.220&data=01%7
> >C01%7Cagosti%40amnh.org%7C5aca05b3b2ee44ff2bbd08d4a978999b%7Cbe0003e8c6
> >b9496883aeb34586974b76%7C0&sdata=%2BfYtgBIFoI6tIum2WYNOTTFZI8Ee6NuJUuJU
> >DO9uulU%3D&reserved=0
> >64
> >
> >"Taxonomy anarchy" and its supposed solution. Journal Nature.
> >
> >
> >-------
> >Richard H. Zander
> >Missouri Botanical Garden - 4344 Shaw Blvd. - St. Louis - Missouri -
> >63110 - USA
> >richard.zander at mobot.org<mailto: richard.zander at mobot.org > Web sites:
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