[Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy

Alastair Culham a.culham at reading.ac.uk
Wed Jun 7 07:39:57 CDT 2017


There has been a remarkable willingness to work together in some areas.  Development of the APG has moved botanists from using several competing systems of higher level classification to at least communicating their science using one system (the latest APG) even if they don't entirely agree with it.  Naming groups is ultimately about effective communication and this can be achieved when consensus (rather than formal agreement) happens.  From my experience in plant taxonomy the greatest disagreements often happen in plant groups where there is a sizeable amateur interest in the plants.  Cacti and succulents, for instance, have had a rather combative taxonomic history  at times as have carnivorous plants.  It is true for most horticulturally important groups. This is usually based around different understandings of what a species is - and often in specialist horticulture this can be the minimum diagnosable difference.  As an example I still promote Actaea as a single genus to include Cimicifuga but respect the fact that other colleagues prefer two genera, one nested within the other because this better supports local understanding.  We are not required to name only those groups that are monophyletic but we do have the choice to do so.

With less studied groups the challenge can be to find even one comprehensive system of classification and identification.  The genera Selaginella and Piper jump to my mind as widespread and common genera for which I cannot find a global treatment.  (I'll be happy to be corrected on either as I could do with a decent key to each!) Both have economic importance and both have relevance to ecology and conservation (doesn't everything).

I generally don't find taxonomy to be anarchistic, we all voluntarily follow the relevant codes of nomenclature, for good reason, but those codes do not attempt to restrict our taxonomic opinions.

If a large sum of money is to be found to set up a correct taxonomy perhaps it should be spent on the basic research rather than on legislating for the unknown?

Alastair
____________________________________________

Dr Alastair Culham
Harborne Building, School of Biological Sciences
University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6AS
U.K.

Associate Professor of Botany
Curator, Reading University Herbarium (RNG)
Associate Editor, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society
Programme Director, MSc Plant Diversity
____________________________________________

________________________________________
From: Stephen Thorpe [stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz]
Sent: 07 June 2017 12:34
To: Taxacom(taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu}; Richard Zander; Alastair Culham
Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy

PS: It is worth noting that there is far more agreement in taxonomy than there is disagreement about the limits of taxa. The main reasons for disagreements result from the influence of funding motivated overzealousness in phylogenetics (phylogenetic species concept) and molecular taxonomy. Herpetology is a rare exception, with friction between Ray Hoser against some overly pious opposition, but generally most taxonomic revisions are rarely challenged (except when new material comes to hand to clarify weak points, but that is inevitable).

Stephen

--------------------------------------------
On Wed, 7/6/17, Alastair Culham <a.culham at reading.ac.uk> wrote:

 Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy
 To: "Stephen Thorpe" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>, "Taxacom(taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu}" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>, "Richard Zander" <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
 Received: Wednesday, 7 June, 2017, 10:37 PM

 I've also seen the debate
 late in the day but am not sure I agree entirely with
 Stephen's ignore it and it will go away approach.
 Having been closely involved in Catalogue of Life through
 two major EU grants (4D4Life and i4Life) I'm very aware
 of the challenge of getting even a basic list of all living
 organisms together and even more painfully aware of the
 challenges of getting agreement on a taxonomy.  There is no
 single species concept that gives acceptable (to the working
 taxonomic community, and I suspect to the users of taxonomy
 such as conservationists) species boundaries over all of
 life and probably no two taxonomic experts on one group that
 have exactly the same opinion of an optimal
 classification.  Ultimately use governs all.

 I think Stephen is right in
 saying "...two authors, who are proposing that a
 significant bureaucracy is built and hard and complex
 decisions are agreed to! In short, it ain't gonna
 happen!" - we've poured millions into Catalogue of
 Life over many years and it is not a complete work as yet,
 nor will it ever be - new species are discovered every year,
 new techniques identify differences not previously spotted,
 broader data sets some show different species to be the
 same, opinions on what a species is do change.  Trying to
 fix an inherently dynamic system is like channelling a
 river, it works until the first flood.

 However, there are temporary working solutions
 to the list of species (the Plant List for plants is an
 obvious one) that are known to be imperfect and
 incomplete.  Taxonomists have been working with
 bioinformaticians for decades to try to improve the
 collation of such lists and the underlying concepts.  It is
 not a simple matter.

 The
 article in Nature is fundamentally false in its assertion
 that taxonomists make changes without considering others.
 Those taxonomic changes are being made to help others - but
 perhaps the help is not welcome because it then casts doubt
 on sometimes rather fixed assertions made in those other
 fields.  Science is fundamentally dynamic and builds on new
 data and new theories, and it is fundamentally naïve to
 think taxonomy does not and should not fit the general
 thread of science.

 My
 concern is that simply ignoring the article will make
 taxonomists look either high handed (not bothering to defend
 the criticism) or scared that another field has a solution
 to a problem they cannot solve.

 I do hope to see a repost to the opinion.

 Alastair

 ____________________________________________

 Dr Alastair Culham
 Harborne Building, School of Biological
 Sciences
 University of Reading,
 Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6AS, U.K.

 Associate Professor of Botany, Curator, Reading
 University Herbarium (RNG)
 University
 Teaching Fellow, Associate Editor, Botanical Journal of the
 Linnean Society
 ____________________________________________



 -----Original Message-----
 From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu]
 On Behalf Of Stephen Thorpe
 Sent: 07 June
 2017 10:59
 To: Taxacom(taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu}
 <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>;
 Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Taxonomy Anarchy

 Sorry for the late comment on
 this, and I've been too busy to read all the other
 replies, but, at the risk of repeating what others may have
 already said, I would now like to make a brief comment:

 Don't panic! This is an
 opinion piece by two authors, who are proposing that a
 significant bureaucracy is built and hard and complex
 decisions are agreed to! In short, it ain't gonna
 happen! No need to react, just do nothing and nothing will
 happen!

 Stephen

 --------------------------------------------
 On Fri, 2/6/17, Richard Zander <Richard.Zander at mobot.org>
 wrote:

  Subject: [Taxacom]
 Taxonomy Anarchy
  To: "Taxacom(taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu}"
 <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
  Received: Friday, 2 June, 2017, 2:56 AM

  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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