Evolutionary Biology Online Journal Club

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Season 2, Meeting 2 – Consistency & Consensus in Taxonomy

After last session’s discussion on species concepts/definitions, people thought it might be worthwhile talking about species from a taxonomist’s point of view. There aren’t many papers I know of that talk about the taxonomic process, but if people have questions I’ll be happy to answer what I can from my experiences.

However, I did find a paper that I think does a good job of discussing some of the issues that were brought up last time, and introduces a few more ideas on what a species is from a taxonomists viewpoint, and how that viewpoint differs between individuals:

Vane-Wright, R.I. 2003. Indifferent Philosophy versus Almighty Authority: on consistency, consensus and unitary taxonomy. Systematics and Biodiversity 1 (1): 3-11. doi:10.1017/S1477200003001063 (PDF here)

Vane-Wright refers back to a short commentary that was published in Nature a few months prior that might also be of interest:

Godfray, H.C.J. 2002. Challenges for taxonomy. Nature, 417: 17–19. doi:10.1038/417017a (PDF here)

Anyways, Vane-Wright discusses the nomenclatural plight of a group of African butterflies and how definitions of the species of interest have changed through time and with differing research opinions/objectives. Everything from creationism to cladism is discussed, and the author proposes a new hierarchical system that only serves to complicate matters in my mind. I think it should be a pretty interesting discussion, and I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone else thinks of it.

P.S. There was some discussion about how taxonomy can affect conservation last time as well, so I thought I’d point people to this paper which does a nice job of discussing the issue:

Mace, G.M. 2004. The role of taxonomy in species conservation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 359: 711-719. doi:10.1098/rstb.2003.1454 (PDF here)