Taxonomy and the purpose of Species names

To: bird <>
Subject: Taxonomy and the purpose of Species names
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2006 11:45:47 +1000
G. Crompton, referred to the listing of Oyster-catcher species in a New
Zealand field guide, and queried the absence of the South Island
Oystercatcher - Haematopus finschi, as well as the use of slang or uncommon
or ambiguous vernacular names, concluding, "Any thoughts on what some of you
might think is a trivial matter?"

Notwithstanding the perhaps unseemly levity of my separate posting, I
certainly do not regard this as a trivial matter.  Quite the contrary.  And
I wonder if we might have some thoughts from more expert b-aus subscribers
than I, as to the purpose of naming species.

Our ever-informative Wim Vader in discussing G. Crompton's posting has said:
... there is also a big debate going on on what are the correct criteria of
deciding what is a good species, with many people switching from the old
Biological Species Definition to the more modern Phylogenetic Species
Definition. I can pontificate more about this if you want me to; suffice it
for now to say, that the phylogenetic criteria usually allow for 'smaller
species' than the biological criteria.
I would certainly like to hear more from Wim on this, and to get his views
on why we name species.

Schodde and Mason address the latter question in the Introduction to their
Directory of Australian Birds - Passerines, and I wonder if  it could be
approved for that Introduction or substantial parts of it to be posted on
b-aus.   I surmise that permission from the publisher (CSIRO Publishing)
would be required and further it may exceed our message size-limit.  It
would amount to free advertising for this important treatise, so the
publisher might agree.  Perhaps our Moderator could comment?

However, I assume short quotes from it to be in order:

 The regional forms of Australian birds, equivalent to the Linnaean species
of the last century and the phylogenetic species of today are basal
biodiversity units of Australia's bird fauna.  Thus information on their
identification and distribution is crucial for effective conservation of
Australia's bird life nationally.

And further:

The current biodiversity unit in use for Australian birds, whether for the
biologist, the conservation manager, the bird watcher or the man in the
street, is the 'species'.

One really needs to read the whole Introduction, but it seems clear to me
that the authors see the prime purpose of taxonomic classification as
providing the basis for biodiversity conservation.  I hope that Wim does
pontificate further on the old Biological Species Definition vis a vis the
more modern Phylogenetic Species Definition.

Schodde and Mason consider that the 'biological species' per se is not
doing, and indeed, cannot do, the job of identifying biodiversity units in
the Australian bird fauna at the base-line level required for the inventory
of biodiversity.

So why not simply adopt phylogenetic species?  I hope I'm not exceeding
what's reasonable, with a final rather long quote:

Because diagnosing traits can be refined to levels that pick out minor local
populations, and even molecular sequences inaccessible to field workers, the
PSC is open to varying interpretation in practice and has yet to be adopted
by the more authoritative continental or global manuals and checklists of
birds.  It would also bring a degree of chaos to conventional classification
of the Australian avifauna.  This comes not so much from a dearth of robust
phylogenies as from its effect in raising most present subspecies to the
level of species, almost doubling the size of of the fauna at species level.
And all 'species' would have to be re-circumscribed according to new
criteria.  Administrative consequences in government and the legislature as
well as biology, would be daunting.  So we prefer to keep to the
well-established biological species concept as the base for classification.
As is now becoming clear, no one definition of species satisfies all needs.

"... no one definition of species satisfies all needs."  So it depends on
the purpose for which you are using the species names.  Comments, please.



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