Splits, lumps, taxonomies, check-lists, whatever.

To: Robert Inglis <>, Birding-Aus <>
Subject: Splits, lumps, taxonomies, check-lists, whatever.
From: Helen Larson <>
Date: Fri, 4 Jan 2013 03:34:22 +0000 (GMT)
No Bob, there is no nice tidy definition that all of us taxonomists agree on 
(I'm a fish taxonomist). Doubt there ever will be, given the wide range of 
people working in systematics.
My palaeontology friends keep pointing out that what we see today are 
micro-snapshots in time, and that species are always changing, some fast and 
some very slowly. I wish I had a TARDIS so I could go back in time and check 
out some of these tiny confusing little gobies and see who's mating with who 
and who their direct ancestors were.
DNA analyses have muddied the picture in the sense that sometimes, broad 
statements of kinship or species-groups are made on the basis of one or a few 
genes, when there was a long-standing group defined by 10-20 morphological 
characters. Arguments then abound. On a species-level, DNA can help show that 
one population really is different - and with luck, when you re-examine the 
specimens, you may find a feature that corroborates this.
We are at the very beginning of learning which bits of genetic material work 
best - i.e. most helpfully. And how to run analyses so that they don't come out 
how you want them to, or the results change very time a new species is added 
into the kinship tree. But no matter how objective one tries to be, the desire 
to put things in tidy pigeonholes is back there, knocking at the base of your 
Birdos are lucky in that there is a huge group of people all watching and 
studying birds at varying levels, so there is lots of information available. 
Pity us poor ichthyologists, who can't breathe water and whose favourite 
animals live in water, so we can only watch them for limited amounts of time.
I'm not a geneticist, but a traditional morphological taxonomist - looking at 
the whole animal, its ecology and behaviour.
So a species is whatever you think it is......!


 From: Robert Inglis <>
To: Birding-Aus <> 
Sent: Thursday, 3 January 2013, 19:42
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Splits, lumps, taxonomies, check-lists, whatever.
From all this passionate discussion on taxonomies I am assuming that someone 
(or some committee) has finally come up with a viable, scientifically based and 
universally accepted definition of “a species”.

Would someone be so kind as to tell me what that definition is.

Bob Inglis
Sandstone Point

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