[Taxacom] OMG! DNA only descriptions (with one habitus photo)!

JF Mate aphodiinaemate at gmail.com
Mon Aug 5 05:41:25 CDT 2019

I have been following the discussion which has been highly informative
save for a couple of rabbit-holes that have sapped the force of the
discussion. I think everybody or at least the majority of the posters
in Taxacom and beyond can agree with your desire for accelerated
approaches to taxonomy, but that is not the crux of the criticisms.
Longino, Redei, Fernández-Triana and others have all provided highly
constructive criticism regarding the issues with this paper and how it
impacts its utility in tackling the taxonomic impediment. I would add
that this form of iBOL centered taxonomy is essentially destabilizing
to systematics by cutting-off the past, creating information
"gate-keepers" and through taxonomic inflation.

As they have clearly stated, not acknowledging previous work severely
reduces the utility of this work. This is particularly eggregious when
the authors state that "Type specimens of all previously described
Zelomorpha and Hemichoma species were examined by MJS and his notes
were used to verify that Z. arizonensis is the sole previously
described species in the genus." It is inexplicable that this was not
used in this paper so as to connect both data sources through a key at
least to species´ groups.  Furtherrmore, the same lab produced, via
one of its PhD students a revision of the genus ( "TAXONOMIC REVISION
OF Zelomorpha ASHMEAD, 1900 AND Hemichoma ENDERLEIN, 1920 (BRACONIDAE:
At the very least the key should have been incorporated.

This omission (and lack of morphological information) effectively
creates an accessibility filter. Since taxonomy is the first step in
biology, any restriction to its access creates a major impediment, and
sequencing as the only means of identification is a barrier to many
(most) of the potential users who will may not be inclined or have
access to the necessary equipment to PCR their daily collection.
Further, the dearth of pictures is surprising. I am not familiar with
braconid identification but I would be surprised if one picture was
enough to ensure accurate identification and this just compounds the

Finally, regarding inflation, this paper appears to be creating a
parallel taxonomy dissociated from past information and from proper
testing. The claim that the "COI barcode approach ... allows species
hypotheses to be posited and data accumulated by employing clear and
reproducible methods." in the absence of other sources of data can
only be interpreted as iBOLD taxonomy by default and conflates
precision and accuracy. Barcoding might yield always the same sequence
but that doesn´t mean it is actually measuring what you think. That is
why the statement that  "Barcode-based descriptions are more accurate
than morphological descriptions, especially when dealing with diverse,
understudied taxa." is a play in words. In the absence of other data
to robustly test these hypotheses it is impossible to know how
accurate a particular method is, in particular when it is based on a
snippet of a gene know to have variable quality depending on the
group. This is likely to further saturate the field with synonyms and
slow rather than enhance description rates. It will also generate a
plethora of suspect species´ hypotheses of dubious quality that can´t
be checked for robustness and which may hurt other fields like
conservation or ecology (even if they could overcome the other two
problems) not to mention the already batteredd image of taxonomy.



On Tue, 30 Jul 2019 at 23:27, Zimmermann Dominique via Taxacom
<taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> wrote:
> Dear colleagues,
> I have been following the discussion. I think the question addressed in the manuscript is an important one: being faced with species numbers several times as high as the number of currently described ones, what can we do to approach it in a faster though efficient way and make it "nameable" for other studies, specifically in hyperdiverse and underexplored taxa. The question is, what is the minimum we can agree upon. Or is it unnecessary to explore new approaches, trying to approximate an inventory of life in a foreseeable period?
> As the editor of the journal I of course invite any reply to this publication, but I think it would be best for the cause to really address this very question.
> Kind regards,
> Dominique
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