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

To: "'Helen Larson'" <>, "'Robert Inglis'" <>, "'Birding-Aus'" <>
Subject: Splits, lumps, taxonomies, check-lists, whatever.
From: "Philip Veerman" <>
Date: Fri, 4 Jan 2013 15:01:41 +1100
What a good answer. I also think it relates a lot to what has happened in
time to all the other species that were close. Think of a platypus. That is
unique in so many aspects. We can easily create a dividing line around that
and call it a species, genus and family. Then the nearest others are
Echidnas. However at earlier points in time there were other species that
were transitioning into platypuses. Back then defining the one species as
platypus would have been difficult. It is the fact that the other
transitional ones no longer exist at this point in time that make it easy in
most cases and why we can put names to most organisms. The same applies to
humans and everything else.

My earlier response was of course not an attempt to deny the concept of
species, which works most of the time, but only that we would not find a
viable and universally accepted definition. 


-----Original Message-----
 On Behalf Of Helen Larson
Sent: Friday, 4 January 2013 2:34 PM
To: Robert Inglis; Birding-Aus
Subject: Splits, lumps, taxonomies, check-lists, whatever.

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 brain. 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......! Helen


From: Robert Inglis <>
To: Birding-Aus <> 
Sent: Thursday, 3 January 2013, 19:42
Subject: 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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