Thursday, November 19, 2009

A thousand taxonomists cried out into the night…

Whoever said cladistics were useless?

Certainly I haven’t.*

An example has just surfaced that shows the importance of taxonomy to this day. Sadly, taxonomists’ vindication may come at the cost of a species of fish, the flapper skate, now recognized as critically-endangered. Classification of this fish as the same species as the related blue skate has allowed the flapper to be fished almost to extinction, and all because of a classification error.

skatePictured: The Flapper Skate. So cute!

So while the fact remains that taxonomy is mostly an outdated field, there might still be some role for the science of natural classification yet. Just not in any of the important sciences.

Wired Science: ID Error Leaves Fish at Edge of Extinction

*This may be a lie.


Greg Baute said...

Strong words. Admittedly in some cases it is difficult to see the use of good taxonomic work but I am beginning to appreciate it more and more. Its impossible to do any comparative analysis with out an understanding of the relationship of the species you are working with. Alot of my work depends on good phylogenies.

Shane Caldwell said...

Yeah, I know I'm exaggerating, and perhaps not in the most productive way.
The thing I mean to get at is illustrated by the fact you say "taxonomic work" and not "taxonomic research". In the days of DNA barcoding, the computer has largely replaced the biologist when it comes to classifications. You could still determine the appropriate species by measuring beak dimensions, but it is much less ambiguously done by a sequencer, alignment algorithms, and PHYLIP or other tree-building software.