[Taxacom] Taxonomic anarchy -- solution?

KD Dijkstra kd.dijkstra at naturalis.nl
Tue Jun 6 03:51:06 CDT 2017


Hi all,

There appears to be consensus that Garnett and Christidis’s proposal of
“taxonomic governance” by IUBS is not supported by the community.
Nonetheless, they provoked debate, with us admitting that taxonomy’s
characteristic duality (contributing to human language while trying to
convey evolutionary context) may result in instability and subjectivity
that can hinder our contribution to conservation. Of course other fields
(e.g. agriculture or bewildered birdwatchers) may be affected too.

If conservation experiences the problem, perhaps there too must be the
solution? IUCN has a long history as conservation’s interpreter of science,
which can feed into policy. That is why the Red List and its criteria were
developed, why Key Biodiversity Areas can now be defined, and why IUCN is
developing tools to red-list ecosystems and predict species’ climate change
responses. Why was taxonomy, which defines the nature that the
international union must conserve, never included explicitly in the package?

The IUCN Red List feeds into CITES and a lot of legislation worldwide. A
(partial) solution to Garnett and Christidis’s problem may be to strengthen
the role of the IUCN Specialist Groups. The SGs differ strongly in focus
(e.g. the Rhino SG will be mostly concerned with politics and rhino
numbers, not rhino systematics), but generally reflect the state of
knowledge for their taxon, containing both taxonomists and
conservationists.

The Dragonfly SG that I’m involved with aims to complete our part of the
Red List: a species’ taxonomic status (i.e. circumscription) is an
essential step in assessing its population status. For the African species
the main specialist’s opinion (i.e. mine) is law, simply because no-one
else to ask exists. The Asian expert may have different taxonomic 'tastes',
as will that for the Americas, or African butterflies, or Asian mayflies,
and so forth, which leads to Garnett and Christidis’s “taxonomic anarchy”.

Nonetheless, the SGs are where taxonomy and conservation already interact
most actively and where what Garnett and Christidis wish for is happening,
be it informally. Should SGs commit to keeping the classification and
species list for their taxon updated and consistent, perhaps following some
general recommendations on treating matters like allopatry* and
phylogenetic distinctness**?

We could make more use of the NE (Not Evaluated) status on the Red List,
ranking species as extant, valid and potentially under threat even before
the ecological, geographic and/or demographic data have been assembled for
a full assessment of their status. Of course many taxonomic groups have no
SG, but this 'pre-listing' might stimulate their formation and more
conservation-thinking in taxonomy. In the future any taxonomic act may be
accompanied with a threat assessment, just as a genetic context has
becoming frequent but not obligatory.

I imagine some resistance to this idea from IUCN, fearing to get even more
on its already underfunded plate, even though the increased taxonomic
stability is advantageous. As in the biological sciences, there is
relatively little sense of responsibility towards taxonomy in conservation,
despite the service it provides. The usual argument there too is that any
support they get trickles down to taxonomy but, as Garnett and Christidis
(and economics!) discuss, that doesn’t seem to work.

Expanding IUCN’s responsibility to the full extent of species’ statuses
won’t have to happen from scratch: there are plenty initiatives to list and
classify species more thoroughly and consistently, which I needn't
enumerate now. As a respected and much-used source of biodiversity
information, the IUCN Red List might also increase the profile of those
initiatives in return.

All of this can’t be done for free, so means will be needed to support the
assessment of species’ taxonomic AND conservation status more consistently.
That commitment must somehow come from those who use species' names and
must account for their extinction risk (i.e. trade, developers,
consultants), for example by committing to funding the full status
assessment of 'pre-listed' species that are potentially impacted by their
activities.

Cheers, KD

* To me the discussed inconsistency in species concepts seems largely a
luxury problem for well-researched taxa. At least in animals it seems that
the more work has been done, the more a phylogenetic species concept is
followed, with most controversy involving the often arbitrary decision
whether allopatric sister-taxa should be ranked as species or subspecies.

** Who remembers Harris & Rato’s 2013 smart idea
<http://www.cell.com/trends/ecology-evolution/pdf/S0169-5347(13)00086-4.pdf>
to incorporate phylogeny in Red Listing?



_________________________________________

*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>

_________________________________________

2017-06-05 2:23 GMT+02:00 Scott Thomson <scott.thomson321 at gmail.com>:

> Although I avoid conservation biology, largely for reasons I outlined
> earlier such as circularity risks if I both try to name and conserve
> species, my background purely by happenstance has exposed me to
> conservation biology. My undergraduate degrees and masters were done at a
> University that does not specialise in taxonomy, it specialises in ecology
> and conservation / management. I was basically a taxonomy student in an
> Ecology lab. This meant the needs of conservation was drilled into me by my
> surroundings. I also these days work in many countries (21 so far) and have
> picked up on the legislation across these areas.
>
> One thing to consider is how it all ties together. The local policies in a
> given area are bolstered by both RedList and CITES listings. So to get
> maximum conservation effort for a population it is desirable for it to have
> both of these. The RedList is based at the species level and for a proposal
> to list to succeed it is generally needed for the taxon to be described.
> What the IUCN does not do is update very well. However a species is
> considered to be currently listed by its last assessment and whatever
> nomenclature that has. No problem. CITES updates its nomenclature every 12
> months and lists taxa by any taxonomic level, eg the family Testudinidae
> are all CITES II unless otherwise stipulated as CITES I. So it does not
> have to be a species, however it must be described. Again they are capable
> of migrating the nomenclature each year if it changes. But recombinations
> can cause species to drop off the list.
>
> The problem is Country and State leglislations which have a tendency to use
> a scheduling model. A taxon is listed in an Act as being scheduled for
> protection. This gives them legislative protection but lawyers being
> lawyers all the names have to match, so when nomenclature does not match
> the species looses its protection. Technically anyway. It gives grounds for
> technical dismissals of cases.
>
> We also need to recognise that CITES is an agreement, not a piece of
> legislation. The signatories of the agreement (160 odd countries) agreed to
> formulate legislation to prevent the trade in any species CITES lists.
> Generally the countries take care of their own and then further recognise
> the legislation of other countries for exotics, ie the US has its Lacey Act
> to recognise the laws of other countries. This is where it is all is done
> at species level. This is where all this gets complicated and I totally
> agree it should never have been done this way but in 1975 it was.
>
> The problem in this current proposal is they basically want to "freeze"
> taxonomic and nomenclatural change, without saying it. Making it very
> difficult for the science of taxonomy to proceed. I can see the issues
> conservation has, but what they propose is not the solution. What we need
> to do is demonstrate that this is an inappropriate solution, explain what
> taxonomy and nomenclature are, offer reasonable alternatives.
>
> Cheers, Scott
>
> On Sun, Jun 4, 2017 at 8:43 PM, Carlos Sarmiento <cesarmiento at yahoo.com>
> wrote:
>
> > Hi,
> >
> > I wonder if the authors of the paper,  willing to ask for a law-approach
> > to "solve the problem once and for all" are aware of the strong
> discussions
> > between legal traditions. Another topic that I found is that these
> debates
> > seems to deviate our focus from more obvious factors. Is the problem of
> > conservation a question of naming species or is it a question of the
> > population grow rate and energy consumption habits of a single one? Are
> > unprotected the undescribed species that live om a national park?
> >
> > I would like to joint a rebuttal proposal
> >
> >
> >
> > El 4/06/2017, a las 11:43, Juan Francisco Araya <jfaraya at u.uchile.cl>
> > escribió:
> >
> > > Dear Colleagues:
> > >
> > > I would like to be part of the response to this paper.
> > >
> > > Cheers,
> > >
> > > Juan Francisco
> > >
> > > El 1 jun. 2017 6:38 PM, "Richard Pyle" <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
> > escribió:
> > >
> > >> I began drafting a rebuttal Correspondence note to Nature before I was
> > >> even finished reading the article.  I'm glad to see I'm not the only
> one
> > >> who had a similar reaction.
> > >>
> > >> Aloha,
> > >> Rich
> > >>
> > >>> -----Original Message-----
> > >>> From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf
> > >>> Of Scott Thomson
> > >>> Sent: Thursday, June 1, 2017 5:47 AM
> > >>> To: JF Mate
> > >>> Cc: Taxacom
> > >>> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy
> > >>>
> > >>> Several of us who were co-authors on my paper in BZN on Case 3601
> have
> > >>> briefly discussed this. We have issues with the concept of
> Conservation
> > >>> attempting to control taxonomy as this leads to circularity. Taxonomy
> > is
> > >> a
> > >>> science and must have the freedom to perform its function without the
> > >>> constraints of other sciences or fields. A point the code also
> > >> acknowledges.
> > >>> Their aim is to constrain taxonomy to a single species concept. This
> > >> would
> > >>> vastly debilitate the development of potential breakthroughs in the
> > >> future of
> > >>> taxonomy. Conservationists are end users of taxonomy and
> nomenclature,
> > a
> > >>> point that taxonomists should recognise with some consideration, but
> > >>> taxonomy must have the academic freedom to explore and present its
> > >>> science without political influence.
> > >>>
> > >>> So yes I reject the views of that paper. I also think that they are
> > >> confused on
> > >>> what taxonomy is. When they say that taxonomists would welcome a
> > >>> constraint on how taxonomy is done, I get the impression they are
> > >> referring
> > >>> to nomenclature there, not taxonomy.
> > >>>
> > >>> Cheers, Scott
> > >>>
> > >>> On Thu, Jun 1, 2017 at 12:29 PM, JF Mate <aphodiinaemate at gmail.com>
> > >>> wrote:
> > >>>
> > >>>> When I read the title I assumed it would be about the cladification
> of
> > >>>> classifications or supraspecific oversplitting. Instead it is
> solving
> > >>>> a legal issue by adding lawyers to taxonomy and systematics. What
> > >>>> could go wrong.
> > >>>>
> > >>>>
> > >>>>
> > >>>>
> > >>>> On 1 June 2017 at 16:56, Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
> > >>> wrote:
> > >>>>> Another thing for taxonomists to worry about:
> > >>>>>
> > >>>>> https://www.nature.com/news/taxonomy-anarchy-hampers-
> > >>>> conservation-1.22064
> > >>>>>
> > >>>>> "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: http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/bfna/bfnamenu.htm and
> > >>>> http://www.mobot.org/plantscience/resbot/
> > >>>>>
> > >>>>> _______________________________________________
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> > >>>>> Nurturing Nuance while Assaulting Ambiguity for 30 Some Years,
> 1987-
> > >>> 2017.
> > >>>> _______________________________________________
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> > >>> 2017.
> > >>>>
> > >>>
> > >>>
> > >>>
> > >>> --
> > >>> Scott Thomson
> > >>> Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo Avenida Nazaré, 481,
> > >>> Ipiranga 04263-000, São Paulo, SP, Brasil
> > >>>
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> > 1987-2017.
> > >>
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> > 1987-2017.
> > >>
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> > > Nurturing Nuance while Assaulting Ambiguity for 30 Some Years,
> 1987-2017.
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> >
> > Nurturing Nuance while Assaulting Ambiguity for 30 Some Years, 1987-2017.
> >
>
>
>
> --
> Scott Thomson
> Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo
> Avenida Nazaré, 481, Ipiranga
> 04263-000, São Paulo, SP, Brasil
>
> Chelonian Research Institute
> 402 South Central Avenue,
> Oviedo, 32765, Florida, USA
>
> http://www.carettochelys.com
> ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-1279-2722
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> 4BF37BFC4AD13FD58CDB7AA5FD#>
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> Nurturing Nuance while Assaulting Ambiguity for 30 Some Years, 1987-2017.
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