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

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Jul 25 18:33:20 CDT 2019

 Donald,"As most of what we know about the world's insects (or nematodes or ...) comes to be derived from sequences, ..."Eh? I can't make much sense of that! Please elaborate! I'd say that most of what we know about the world's insects etc. is a result of painstaking taxonomy and field work, not chucking specimens into blenders and getting a machine to spit out a stream of symbols (but maybe that isn't what you meant?)Cheers, Stephen
    On Thursday, 25 July 2019, 11:26:07 pm UTC, Donald Hobern via Taxacom <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> wrote:  
 I agree with John Longino that our challenge is how we label the units of more or less fractal diversity. As Thomas Pape and Michael Heads note, this paper does include real information attached to the names, above and beyond the barcode sequences. Mapping and exploring this (+/- sympatric) diversity is really valuable and gives insights into the ecology and evolution of hyperdiverse taxa and megadiverse ecosystems. I would also note that the materials referenced in this paper have been vouchered, examined and curated to place them in a known and described genus. This does not offer carte blanche to assign a name to every BIN in BOLD.

One option we could we follow would be to formalise something like the BIN system and associate every BIN with a version history that captures the set of specimens and sequences that underlie the BIN at any time and that supports coalescence or fragmentation of previous BINs if new sequences disrupt the clustering. This would give us set relationships, histories and computability for BIN "concepts" that naturally elude us for morphological taxon concepts. A paper like this one from Meierotto et al. could then represent work to review and formalise some of these BINs according to some threshold of confidence. This formalisation could be in the form of a curatorial tag on the BIN or, as here, in the form of a published name. Most of this work can and should be planned to reinforce today's BIN system.

None of this directly addresses John's question whether we want to publish binomials for these units, but my inclination aligns with his comments on "the public's typology [as] a powerful conservation incentive" - Linnaean binomials are the accepted and trusted way to communicate the diversity we discover.

Would it be worthwhile for us to take the time to find morphological characters for every clearly diagnosable species within a hyperdiverse genus - recognising the scaling issues this involves when the genus runs into hundreds of species? I'm not convinced. For many new Lepidoptera species, only genitalic criteria are supplied for diagnosis. Are these criteria really adequate in all cases for confident diagnosis of a candidate insect?

Metagenomics and metabarcoding will soon be the richest streams of data we have for surveying and monitoring groups such as the Braconidae, and intrinsically these are streams that are particularly amenable to computational analysis. This is the real question we must face. As most of what we know about the world's insects (or nematodes or ...) comes to be derived from sequences, do we want to keep this new knowledge anchored in the foundations of a quarter of a millennium of taxonomic endeavour? If so, let's find the best possible way to do exactly what Meierotto et al. have attempted here.

Edward Meyrick wrote in the Preface to Exotic Microlepidoptera, "The purpose of this volume is to ensure the speedy publication of material which is required for immediate use in other works proceeding at the same time, especially in my contributions to the Genera Insectorum and Lepidopterorum Catalogus; the delays incidental to publication through other channels would otherwise involve so much arrangement in advance as to seriously hamper my work." I see this effort in very much the same light.

Best wishes,


Donald Hobern - dhobern at gmail.com - ORCID 0000-0001-6492-4016
dhobern at ibol.org | donald.hobern at sp2000.org | dhobern at gbif.org<mailto:dhobern at gbif.org>

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