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Abstract

Responding to purported taxonomic anarchy, in an article published in the widely read journal Nature, Garnett & Christidis (2017) [hereafter GC] opined on the need for “standardized global species lists”, at the behest of conservationists, and proposed the construction of a judicial committee to “restrict … freedom of taxonomic action” and promote taxonomic stability. Here we reflect on this perspective and contest that the view of GC conflicts with some basic and indisputable principles underpinning the philosophy of science, most notably: it must be free. They appear to believe that taxonomic revisions should be based on political, economic and conservation concerns, and they treat species as fixed real entities, instead of refutable scientific hypotheses. In addition to such theoretical misconceptions, GC did not consider important practical aspects of what they term taxonomic anarchy, most significantly the participation of conservationists as authors of taxonomic works, and the importance of alternative management units, a well-established discussion in conservation biology.
Accepted by A. Minelli: 19 Jul. 2017; published: 1 Sept. 2017
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Copyright © 2017 Magnolia Press
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http://zoobank.org/urn:lsid:zoobank.org:pub:88FA0944-D3CF-4A7D-B8FB-BAA6A3A76744
What really hampers taxonomy and conservation? A riposte to Garnett and
Christidis (2017)
MARCOS A. RAPOSO
1,2
, RENATA STOPIGLIA
3,4
, GUILHERME RENZO R. BRITO
1,5
, FLÁVIO A.
BOCKMANN
3,6
, GUY M. KIRWAN
1,7
, JEAN GAYON
2
& ALAIN DUBOIS
4
1
Setor de Ornitologia, Departamento de Vertebrados, Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Quinta da Boa Vista,
s/n, 20940–040 Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. raposo@mn.ufrj.br (MAR), grenzobrito@gmail.com (GRRB), gmkirwan@aol.com (GMK)
2
UMR 8590, IHPST–Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques, UMR 8590, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-
Sorbonne & CNRS, 13 rue du Four, 75006 Paris, France. jean.gayon@univ-paris1.fr (JG)
3
Laboratório de Ictiologia de Ribeirão Preto, Departamento de Biologia, FFCLRP, Universidade de São Paulo, Av. dos Bandeirantes
3900, 14040–901 Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil. renata.stopiglia@usp.br (RS), fabockmann@ffclrp.usp.br (FAB)
4
Institut de Systématique, Évolution, Biodiversité, ISYEB – UMR 7205 – CNRS, MNHN, UPMC, EPHE, Muséum national d’Histoire
naturelle, Sorbonne Universités, 25 rue Cuvier, CP 30, 75005, Paris, France. adubois@mnhn.fr (AD).
5
Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de Biologia, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Av. Carlos Chagas Filho, 373, 21941-
902, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.
6
Programa de Pós-Graduação em Biologia Comparada, FFCLRP, Universidade de São Paulo, Av. dos Bandeirantes 3900, 14040–
901, Ribeirão Preto, SP, Brazil.
7
Research Associate, Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 South Lakeshore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605, USA.
Abstract
Responding to purported taxonomic anarchy, in an article published in the widely read journal Nature, Garnett & Chris-
tidis (2017) [hereafter GC] opined on the need for “standardized global species lists”, at the behest of conservationists,
and proposed the construction of a judicial committee to “restrict … freedom of taxonomic action” and promote taxonomic
stability. Here we reflect on this perspective and contest that the view of GC conflicts with some basic and indisputable
principles underpinning the philosophy of science, most notably: it must be free. They appear to believe that taxonomic
revisions should be based on political, economic and conservation concerns, and they treat species as fixed real entities,
instead of refutable scientific hypotheses. In addition to such theoretical misconceptions, GC did not consider important
practical aspects of what they term taxonomic anarchy, most significantly the participation of conservationists as authors
of taxonomic works, and the importance of alternative management units, a well-established discussion in conservation
biology.
Key words: Taxonomy, freedom, science, philosophy, conservation
Introduction
The journal Nature has historically published important contributions on biodiversity, evolution and taxonomy, the
science behind the classification of living organisms. One such was Bremer et al. (1990) who wrote persuasively:
Taxonomists should pursue their scientific venture and stop worrying about instability in classification. Taxonomy
is not a service function for labeling organisms, but a science of its own, dealing with variation, relationships and
phylogeny” (see also Dubois 1998; Carvalho et al. 2007). These views are aligned with modern concepts of science
and freedom of expression. However, the opinion of Garnett & Christidis (2017) [GC hereafter] expressed in an
article published in the same journal appears to blatantly contradict these principles, by arguing for “standardized
global species lists”, supposedly at the behest of conservationists, and proposing a structure to “restrict the freedom
of taxonomic action” and promote taxonomic stability. Interestingly, Bremer et al. (1990) had also stated: “to
establish some international peer-review system to approve or reject proposed modifications overlooks the benefits
of change in taxonomy”.
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Here we reflect on these perspectives following two necessary lines of thought: a theoretical one, where we
concentrate on different philosophical aspects of their propositions and statements; and a practical approach, where
we analyse, based on GC’s examples, the consistency of their statements as true representation of the current
taxonomic universe.
Theoretical perspective
The dispute between those who need, for practical ends, stable lists of existing species and those who classify and
catalogue life is old
(e.g. Crisp & Fogg 1988) and motivated Bremer et al. (1990) to write in defence of taxonomic
work. Twenty-seven years later GC (but see also Thiele & Yeates 2002; Godfray 2007) brought back to the widely
read journal Nature a pragmatic view of the function of taxonomy, demonstrating that the debate is far from over
and revealing the necessity of more profound reflections and clarification.
GC commence by stating that “The assumption that species are fixed entities underpins every international
agreement on biodiversity conservation, all national environmental legislation …[etc.]”. The statement that
species are “fixed entities” goes back to Linnaeus (vide Zachos 2016: 30) and is unacceptable from a modern
evolutionary viewpoint. Furthermore, this belief goes against the very widespread conception of science whose aim
is not a search for definitive or ‘fixed truth’, but to produce rational and testable hypotheses, and the replacement
via refutation of once-adopted hypotheses by better ones until they are in their turn subject to modification or
rejection. Thus is science and, particularly in taxonomy, stability is ignorance, as well expressed by Gaffney
(1979), Dominguez & Wheeler (1997) and Dubois (2005).
Species are scientific hypotheses and their definition and limits should change whenever scientists judge this
necessary. We will refrain from discussing whether species hypotheses refer to real entities or not (see Dubois
2007; Raposo & Kirwan 2017), because under either perspective (existing or non-existent), they represent
hypotheses and consequently are not static.
Some of the consequences of such a misguided notion of species and the role played by scientific hypotheses
are better understood by examining GC’s statement that “Paradoxically, finer splitting could also make certain
species more vulnerable”. To claim that finer splitting renders species more vulnerable is inconsistent with facts
and logic. From the perspective that a species is a human intellectual construct, it can only be endangered once it
has gained existence through formal taxonomic procedures, such as description or validation. If species should be
regarded as pre-existing real entities, the splitting action becomes even more important as it equips the
conservation community with the appropriate knowledge to take specific measures to protect these entities. On the
other hand, ignorance or omission leads to real risk of extinction simply because it is impossible to preserve what is
unknown.
Another common misunderstanding is their apparent belief that taxonomists should be driven by conservation
and economic goals, and not otherwise. Although we are sensitive to some of these consequences, at least in theory,
a better understanding of the natural world will always positively impact conservation policy. The few examples
mentioned by GC attest to this and not to the contrary as they purport. For example, according to GC, a taxonomic
revision of the “central Asian argali wild sheep (Ovis ammon), turned one species into nine, and overnight
Kazakhstan had five mountain sheep species in need of protection, not just one”. Apparently, following this
taxonomic revision we discovered that the group’s conservation was much more problematic than previously
thought. This line of reasoning provides response to virtually all of the examples presented by GC. There is no
option but to find the hypothesis that best approaches our conception of reality under present knowledge.
More seriously, GC confound science and politics stating that the “community’s failure to govern taxonomy
threatens the effectiveness of global efforts to halt biodiversity loss, damages the credibility of science and is
expensive to society.” Following this line of reasoning, the authors complain that “a single taxonomic paper can
affect whole conservation programmes, tourist enterprises and employment opportunities.” But should taxonomists
try to predict future economic or political disputes when reviewing taxonomy? Such considerations would discredit
taxonomy as a scientific enterprise. The idea that a taxonomist should not validate species that might be
endangered or should not refute as inadequate hypotheses insufficiently robust species or, much less to create a
“judicial committee” to analyse the political impacts of taxonomic works before accepting them is scientifically
unacceptable and ethically reprehensible. Such a body would transform taxonomy into a merely political tool for
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guiding economic decisions that are not necessarily aligned with species preservation policies. The authors refer to
the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS) as an example of success, but criticise it because of
the statement “Nothing in this Code may be construed to restrict the freedom of taxonomic action.” GC are
apparently impervious to what lies behind such an important ruling, the only really indisputable truth in science: it
must be free.
The authors also attest that the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) should restrict the freedom
of taxonomists. This is anti-scientific and would result in science “losing its soul” with significant negative results,
as demonstrated by Trofim Lysenko’s rejection of Mendelian genetic inheritance theory, which gained the support
of Joseph Stalin, described in Leone’s (1952: 379) words thus “Science cannot long remain unfettered in a social
system which seeks to exercise strict control over the whole spiritual and intellectual life of a nation. The
correctness of a scientific theory can never be adjudged by its readiness to give the answers desired by political
leadership” (see also Hołynski 2017). In this sense, taxonomists should struggle to maintain their “freedom of
taxonomic thought or action”, as noted in the preamble to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature
(Anonymous 1999, hereafter ‘the Code’; see also Minelli 2000).
Practical perspective: who is really demanding stability?
The main argument motivating GC is the putative demand for stability by conservationists. To illustrate this, they
provide a diagram demonstrating supposedly anarchic avian taxonomy. At this point, a detailed look at the very
specific case reported by the authors becomes important.
Among the taxon Aves, the most recently published world checklist (del Hoyo & Collar 2014, 2016)
recognises 4,372 species of non-passerines and 6,592 species of passerines, versus totals of 4,016 and 6,005
species, respectively, in the well-respected Howard & Moore checklist (Dickinson & Remsen 2013; Dickinson &
Christidis 2014). Thus, del Hoyo & Collar chose to recognise overall 943 more species, sometimes as a result of
different responses to taxonomic works published in peer-reviewed literature. However, a substantial measure of
the discrepancy in totals is the result of del Hoyo & Collar attempting to apply an operational method governing
use of morphological and vocal characters towards species delimitation (Tobias et al. 2010) to as many taxa as
possible that were thought might require revision. Nevertheless, in common with other prior published works, del
Hoyo & Collar chose to treat as species quite a number of taxa, e.g. among Procellariforms, that would not have
“passed” the Tobias criteria for recognition. At least in some of these cases, they considered that the conservation
benefits outweighed the negatives of recognising additional species, many of them breeding on oceanic islands at
high risk from introduced predators. This fact directly contradicts GC’s baseline hypothesis.
What might be surprising to readers of GC is that one of the co-authors of that operational approach (Tobias et
al. 2010 [Collar]) and the just-mentioned checklist (del Hoyo & Collar 2014, 2016), has worked in international
bird conservation for 40 years, with a special focus on the compilation of Red Data books. Furthermore, all of the
other authors of the Tobias criteria are primarily avian ecologists or conservation biologists. The motivation for
undertaking a revision of the taxonomy of the world’s birds is clearly explained in del Hoyo & Collar (2014: 19–
20): “Given that conservation very largely takes the species as its unit of concern, and that the future of many taxa
might in part depend on their recognition or not as species …, it has become increasingly frustrating to have to
wait—frequently in vain—for authoritative decisions from other sources over whether form A or form B is a species
or subspecies”. The del Hoyo & Collar checklist was developed in collaboration with BirdLife International, the
body responsible for assigning IUCN threat categories to birds, and its taxonomy has been adopted in full by the
same organisation. Furthermore, various legislative bodies have also quickly elected to work with this checklist,
including the EU and the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. In other
words, one influential bird conservationist had to some extent “lost patience” in waiting for the input of
professional taxonomists and elected to “do it himself”. The resulting taxonomic inflation (almost 10%) seems to
have been of no concern at least to some conservationists.
We will not discuss here the quality of the taxonomy employed by del Hoyo & Collar (2014, 2016), which is
unimportant in the present context, but, contradicting GC, it demonstrates that real conservationists, at least in
ornithology, do not, of necessity, require stability. They demand more and better taxonomy and are, in fact, behind
what GC consider taxonomic anarchy, as illustrated by their own diagram. It also illustrates that there is no
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necessary polarization between conservationists and taxonomists. But it raises one important question: who, after
all, is demanding stability?
Furthermore, still considering their example, authorities must understand the difference between online lists
and genuine taxonomic revisions. Species lists are useful for some practical purposes (e.g. to stimulate the general
interest of the public in citizen science programmes), but they are obviously unscientific and should never serve as
the base (data matrix) for any kind of serious research (see Nemésio et al. 2014 for a specific case). GC base their
conclusion on a comparison between some of these online lists and the Howard & Moore checklist. Appropriate
sources of information are always taxonomic revisions produced group by group. It is more difficult, but authors
really interested to produce robust science should do so themselves, or invite a taxonomist to assist.
Even if the GC example of Aves taxonomy was true, the use of anecdotal observations to draw general
assumptions is quite dangerous. In the present case, other examples from vertebrate taxonomy could easily be used
to contradict that claim. For example, fishes, which possess a strong conservation appeal, including for economic
reasons, currently number 34,401 valid species as of 31 May 2017, of which 3,924 have been described in the last
ten years (Eschmeyer & Fong 2017). Despite the increasing rate of species descriptions, fish taxonomy can in no
way be termed “anarchic”, because cases of conflict are relatively rare, probably due to the standards of excellence
established by the ichthyological community. Therefore, before accepting the conclusions of GC, it is necessary to
perform thorough research that attests to the solidity of their statements.
Concluding remarks
Ending their paper with the phrase “Vagueness is not compatible with conservation, GC threaten the credibility of
conservation biology as a science. The evolution of all sciences implies the constant revision of concepts in an
effort to make scientific discourse best reflect our understanding of the natural world, and this is also valid for
conservation biology, which has debated which entities represent the best targets for protection for more than 30
years. The case is sufficiently complex that the Moritz (1994) paper on the importance of alternative management
units (Evolutionary Significant Units and Management Units) to species has been heavily cited since its
publication. This debate is crucial to resolve the problems highlighted by GC’s paper, but these authors appear to
avoid or ignore the maturity achieved by conservation biology, as exemplified by Avise (1989) who predicted that
An up-dated taxonomy that includes input from molecular genetics should provide a firmer foundation for the
proper recognition and hence management of biotic diversity… Management personnel will have to keep an open
mind regarding the prospect of taxonomic revision, particularly in groups that have been problematic or poorly
studied. Most systematists are well aware of the provisional nature of existing taxonomic assignments, particularly
at the subspecies and species levels… Inevitably, conflicts will occasionally arise when multiple data bases are
used to assess taxonomic and evolutionary relationships.”
In fact, part of this problem stems from the embarrassing fact that, contrary to its introductory statement, the
zoological Code indeed partly infringes on the freedom of taxonomic thought and action in forbidding to name taxa
at ranks below subspecies (e.g., variety or form). This precludes the possibility to include such taxa in Red Lists
and official juridical text, unlike the case in botany. Such lower ranks could very well be used for such alternative
management units. Both taxonomists and conservationists have so far proved unable to explore these possibilities,
despite recommendations that they do so (Dubois 2006, 2011: 43–44) (see also Daugherty et al. 1990 and May
1990 for the emblematic case of the extinctions of tuatara Sphenodon populations, or Valbuena-Ureña et al. 2013
for the newt genus Calotriton).
Finally, it is important that taxonomists reflect on the permanence of this discourse in scientific journals. It is
clear that it has no philosophical or factual consistency. Yet, it would be a mistake for us to believe the discussion is
futile. Taxonomy is a complex and strongly empirical science. Particularly in groups of great visual appeal, as in
the case of vertebrates, the taxonomist responds, on the one hand, to the simpler demand of the ordinary citizen to
know what merits a name and on the other hand, to Popper, Peirce and the many other philosophers of science, who
demand the difficult goal of deductibility. It endeavours to identify unique clades that represent hypotheses of
discontinuity in a fluid and continuous world. It is backed by reasonability and historical process, rather than by the
formal logic that is supposed to characterize other sciences (Raposo & Kirwan 2017).
Under this scenario, there are no alternatives other than to constantly seek to improve the theoretical quality of
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our science and our discourse. This is part of the refinement of concepts important to the structure of our
knowledge, as is the case of the concept of species, which taxonomists should acclaim as proof of maturity and not
the opposite (GC’s total misunderstanding of this was well tackled by Hołyński 2017).
As Kierkegaard (1841) remarked in the introduction to his “On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference
to Socrates”: “The observer ought to be an amorist; he must not be indifferent to any feature, any factor. But on the
other hand he ought to have a sense of his own predominance—but should use it only to help the phenomenon
obtain its full disclosure. Therefore, even if the observer does bring the concept along with him, it is still of great
importance that the phenomenon remain inviolate and that the concept be seen as coming into existence
[tilblivende] through the phenomenon.” For this, taxonomy requires time, work, academic recognition, positions,
funding and historical balance, nothing more, or less.
Acknowledgements
The authors received research funding from the following agencies, for which they are deeply grateful: Fundação
de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (Proc. # 2016/18963-8 to RS); Conselho Nacional de
Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (Proc. # 312067/2013-5 to FAB) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento
de Pessoal de Nível Superior (PNPD fellowship to GRRB).
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... Despite widely reported as a suffering discipline, taxonomy is unavoidable as it plays a pivotal role in biological conservation (Mace 2004;Raposo et al. 2017). The concept of "species" is one of the most pressing issues in biological conservation, as it includes nearly 30 definitions Zachos 2016). ...
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Taxonomy is a mistreated matter, but its role in ecology, behaviour and conservation studies is pivotal. Disentangling amongst different subspecies is challenging given the high arbitrariness level in determining thresholds of genetic and morphological distances. Splitting frenzy trends have increased the number of animal taxa and for most of them a critical redefinition is required. In this work, we reviewed knowledge and validity of subspecific taxa identified for African crested porcupines Hystrix cristata and Hystrix africaeaustralis. In the past, several subspecies were recognized for both the species, but successive works suggested H. cristata and H. africaeaustralis as monotypic species with no clear explanation. Recently, the validity of the taxon H. cristata senegalica has been claimed again. We analysed all available data and discussed all the subspecific taxa in light of both genetic and morphological data. We revalidated here the synonymy Hystrix senegalica Cuvier, 1823 = Hystrix cristata Linnaeus, 1758. Syn. rev. Two names are treated as nomina dubia: Acanthion daubentonii Cuvier, 1823 (formalization) and "Hystrix capensis Gr.". Hystrix cristata var. alba de Sélys-Longchamps, 1839 has been deleted from the synonymic list of H. cristata. Neither mitochondrial nor nuclear DNA data militate for the existence of any subspecific taxon, although further data are required for H. cristata from East Africa (e.g., Kenya and Tanzania). Similarly, morphology seems to play for a clinal variation in both species. For available data, we thus strongly recommend to keep both H. cristata and H. africaeaustralis as monotypic species.
... Responding to some of these impediments, taxonomists are sometimes at pains to paint the discipline as hypothetico-deductive, with taxa as hypotheses (e.g. Pante et al., 2015;Raposo et al., 2017;Sluys, 2013). However, a problem with this interpretation lies with the baggage that accompanies these terms. ...
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Taxonomy—the delimitation, naming, classification and documentation of species and other taxa—is an often-misunderstood discipline. Complex and at times contested, taxonomy occupies a sometimes discomforting intermediate position on a continuum from descriptive to hypothetico-deductive science. Two aspects of taxonomy that are striking to many observers and users are the degree to which taxonomists often disagree, and the degree of taxonomic revisionism (the replacement of one taxonomic classification with another, exemplified by the phrase ‘taxonomists are always changing the names of things’). Disagreements between taxonomists do not usually indicate taxonomic confusion or chaos, but rather often represent valid disagreements over the best, most effective and most meaningful way to interpret, describe and classify one of the most complex systems that scientists seek to describe and characterise—the patterns of variation of life on Earth. One way to partially manage disagreements among taxonomists is to develop a mechanism to synthesise the flux of taxonomic activity into agreed, broadly accepted, authoritative and scientifically robust global lists of the world’s species and other taxa. A sound understanding of some aspects of the nature of taxonomy is needed to appreciate the opportunities, complexities and limitations of the development and maintenance of such lists.
... The present estimates are a direct reflection of past description processes and their correlates, and any forward interpretation therefore needs to recognize intrinsic limitations. Despite ongoing calls for taxonomic standardization and stability 34,35 , species also represent scientific hypotheses that are sometimes revisited, refuted or revalidated 36,37 . Our models therefore are not able to distinguish operational definitions of valid species and the potential heterogeneous associations arising from variable practices around, for example, recognizing cryptic species or splits 38 . ...
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Much of biodiversity remains undiscovered, causing species and their functions to remain unrealized and potentially lost in ignorance. Here we use extensive species-level data in a time-to-event model framework to identify taxonomic and geographic discovery gaps in terrestrial vertebrates. Biological, environmental and sociological factors all affect discovery probability and together provide strong predictive ability for species discovery. Our model identifies distinct taxonomic and geographic unevenness in future discovery potential, with greatest opportunities for amphibians and reptiles, and for Neotropical and Indo-Malayan forests. Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and Colombia emerge as holding greatest discovery opportunities, with a quarter of potential discoveries estimated. These findings highlight the importance of international policy support for basic taxonomic research and the potential of quantitative models to aid species discovery.
Article
Improved taxonomies and phylogenies are essential for understanding the evolution of organisms, the development of conservation plans, and the allocation of funds and resources, especially for threatened species with uncertain identities. Pears are an economically and nutritionally important fruit, and wild pear species are highly valued and protected because of their utility for the development of cultivars. Pyrus hopeiensis is an endangered species endemic to North China, which is sympatric with and difficult to distinguish from the widely distributed and morphologically similar species P. ussuriensis. To clarify its taxonomic identity, principal coordinate analysis was performed using 14 quantitative and qualitative characters from P. hopeiensis, P. ussuriensis, and P. phaeocarpa, and phylogenomic analysis was performed based on whole-genome resequencing and whole plastome data. Pyrus hopeiensis was synonymized with P. ussuriensis based on morphological and phylogenetic evidence, as well as our long-term field studies. Pyrus hopeiensis is proposed to be excluded from the list of local key protected wild plants. Given that the holotype of P. ussuriensis was not designated, a lectotype was designated in this work. Integrative evidence-based taxonomic study including museomics is suggested for organisms with uncertain identities, which will contribute to biodiversity conservation.
Article
The translation of scientific data, analyses, and conclusions into public policy and social action almost always contains an implication of the investigator's ethics and values. Direct statements of these values are often deeply considered, but the ethical implications of structural constraints and upstream analytical choices are often hidden. This is relatively uncontroversial from a philosophical point of view, and well-known to scholars in environmental ethics. However, many practitioners in ecology and evolution without such training (ourselves included) may not have realized that by asserting the value of biodiversity conservation in either general or specific terms, they are stating a “normative postulate:” a value judgment taken to be true and foundational to further thinking. These assumptions are based on some theory of value and ethical reasoning, but often one that has not been made fully explicit. Consequently, many theories and metrics in empirical scientific research may be founded on hidden normative postulates of which practitioners are often unaware. We consider five cases where this may be the case: local vs. global diversity, prioritization based on evolutionary distinctness, species concepts, extinction by hybridization, and non-native species. Conflicts over the interpretation of data driven by different parties holding to different conceptions of ethics and philosophy are possible, with little guidance on how they can best be adjudicated. To the extent this is true, there exists a “normative postulate problem” for biodiversity researchers.
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Alpha taxonomy endeavours to propose a coherent vision of existing species and, simultaneously, to individualize the natural entities useful to understand evolutionary processes. This ideal is especially difficult when available data lack congruence. Here we address the polytypic species Synallaxis rutilans (ruddy spinetail), a suboscine passerine widely distributed in the Amazon Basin and whose taxonomy could, potentially, aid our understanding of processes shaping its biodiversity. Combining genetic [genomic ultraconserved elements (UCE) and mtDNA] and morphological data, we demonstrate that while delimitation of genetic lineages and their phylogenetic relationships are strongly associated with classic Amazonian geographic barriers, such as rivers, different coloration patterns appear to be more associated with local selection processes for phenotype. Employing an evolutionary approach, whereby the species is considered a taxonomic category, rather than a nomenclatural rank, we propose to recognize five species: S. amazonica, S. caquetensis, S. dissors, S. omissa and S. rutilans. The taxonomic arrangement proposed here permits better understanding of the similarities and differences among taxa from different areas of endemism, and represents patterns of genetic and morphological diversity resulting from distinct processes acting across certain time frames.
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Governance is the act of governing or organizing, that is a system of rules, norms, or shared strategies to guide or regulate the actions of the governed. Since the initial development of Linnaean taxonomy, a diversity of approaches have been adopted for critical taxonomic decisions, introducing pluralism to taxonomic principles and resulting in disagreements about the development of species lists. These disagreements are in part a product of the fragmented governance structure that has developed for the creation of taxonomic lists. To address these challenges and achieve the goal of a single, accepted list of life on Earth, a new governance structure for the development of taxonomic lists is needed. Here, we introduce three high-level categories of governance structure—fragmentation, monocentric governance, and polycentric governance—which differ in the way decision-making power is distributed and coordinated. We then show the problems caused by the fragmented governance structure currently in place for the development of taxonomic lists and consider the potential for a new approach grounded in either monocentric or polycentric governance. Both monocentric and polycentric approaches have the potential to address the problems inherent in the existing fragmented system. Ultimately, the best governance system for taxonomic lists will be the one that the taxonomic community is prepared to accept.
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A global consensus list of the world’s species must be based on the best available taxonomic research, and its contents should not be biased towards certain political or social aims. At the same time, users of any global list must be involved or consulted in its establishment to ensure that the list meets their needs. This paper argues that while these two desiderata— independence and inclusion—might seem to be in conflict, they are in fact compatible. More precisely, it suggests the roles taxonomists and users could play in establishing and maintaining a global consensus list to make sure that this list is both inclusive and independent.
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Translating information between the domains of systematics and conservation requires novel information management designs. Such designs should improve interactions across the trading zone between the domains, herein understood as the model according to which knowledge and uncertainty are productively translated in both directions (cf. Collins et al. 2019). Two commonly held attitudes stand in the way of designing a well-functioning systematics-to-conservation trading zone. On one side, there are calls to unify the knowledge signal produced by systematics, underpinned by the argument that such unification is a necessary precondition for conservation policy to be reliably expressed and enacted (e.g., Garnett et al. 2020). As a matter of legal scholarship, the argument for systematic unity by legislative necessity is principally false (Weiss 2003, MacNeil 2009, Chromá 2011), but perhaps effective enough as a strategy to win over audiences unsure about robust law-making practices in light of variable and uncertain knowledge. On the other side, there is an attitude that conservation cannot ever restrict the academic freedom of systematics as a scientific discipline (e.g., Raposo et al. 2017). This otherwise sound argument misses the mark in the context of designing a productive trading zone with conservation. The central interactional challenge is not whether the systematic knowledge can vary at a given time and/or evolve over time, but whether these signal dynamics are tractable in ways that actors can translate into robust maxims for conservation. Redesigning the trading zone should rest on the (historically validated) projection that systematics will continue to attract generations of inspired, productive researchers and broad-based societal support, frequently leading to protracted conflicts and dramatic shifts in how practioners in the field organize and identify organismal lineages subject to conservation. This confident outlook for systematics' future, in turn, should refocus the challenge of designing the trading zone as one of building better information services to model the concurrent conflicts and longer-term evolution of systematic knowledge. It would seem unreasonable to expect the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Index to develop better data science models for the dynamics of systematic knowledge (cf. Hoffmann et al. 2011) than are operational in the most reputable information systems designed and used by domain experts (Burgin et al. 2018). The reasonable challenge from conservation to systematics is not to stop being a science but to be a better data science. In this paper, we will review advances in biodiversity data science in relation to representing and reasoning over changes in systematic knowledge with computational logic, i.e., modeling systematic intelligence (Franz et al. 2016). We stress-test this approach with a use case where rapid systematic signal change and high stakes for conservation action intersect, i.e., the Malagasy mouse lemurs ( Microcebus É. Geoffroy, 1834 sec. Schüßler et al. 2020), where the number of recognized species-level concepts has risen from 2 to 25 in the span of 38 years (1982–2020). As much as scientifically defensible, we extend our modeling approach to the level of individual published occurrence records, where the inability to do so sometimes reflects substandard practice but more importantly reveals systemic inadequacies in biodiversity data science or informational modeling. In the absence of shared, sound theoretical foundations to assess taxonomic congruence or incongruence across treatments, and in the absence of biodiversity data platforms capable of propagating logic-enabled, scalable occurrence-to-concept identification events to produce alternative and succeeding distribution maps, there is no robust way to provide a knowledge signal from systematics to conservation that is both consistent in its syntax and acccurate in its semantics, in the sense of accurately reflecting the variation and uncertainty that exists across multiple systematic perspectives. Translating this diagnosis into new designs for the trading zone is only one "half" of the solution, i.e., a technical advancement that then would need to be socially endorsed and incentivized by systematic and conservation communities motivated to elevate their collaborative interactions and trade robustly in inherently variable and uncertain information.
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The classification of complex organisms is in chaos. Stephen T. Garnett and Les Christidis propose a solution.
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We discuss the philosophical tenets underpinning the current debate among taxonomists as to the need for a physical holotype in support of new species, or whether, as some scientists argue, photographs should be considered equally acceptable. At present, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature does not stipulate that the deposition of a physical specimen is required, but many taxonomists have recently called on the Commissioners of the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature to modify the text of the Code on these issues in its forthcoming, fifth edition. We discuss considerations that motivate both sides in this argument, all of which pertain to philosophical and historical issues: (1) misconceptions about science; (2) a fear of the loss of control over zoological nomenclature; and (3) the difficulty inherent in making the system developed by Linnaeus for a natural world originally perceived as static, compatible with the constantly shifting one outlined by Darwin and Wallace. In conclusion we argue that the best means to understand the question is rooted in a broader comprehension of the history of taxonomy and the kind of science it represents.
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The use of ranks and nominal-series in zoological nomenclature has recently been challenged by some authors who support unranked systems of nomenclature. It is here shown that this criticism is based on a double misunderstanding: (1) the confusion between nomenclatural ranks and taxonomic categories; (2) the request for a monosemic nomenclatural system, not for scientific reasons, but to please non-taxonomists, especially customers of the web. It is here argued that nomenclatural ranks and taxonomic categories should be clearly distinguished and designated by different terms, and that the Code should be modified in order to make this distinction clear. Whereas taxonomic categories have biological definitions, nomenclatural ranks do not, as they express only a position in a taxonomic hierarchy. If used consistently (which is not always the case), the system of nomenclatural ranks is very useful for the storage and retrieval of taxonomic and phylogenetic information. Taxa referred to a given rank in different groups cannot therefore be considered equivalent by any criterion, so that using ranks for comparisons between taxa (e.g., for biodiversity richness assessment) is irrelevant and misleading. Although the current Code needs to be improved in several respects, the superiority of this nomenclatural system, which is theory-free regarding taxonomy as it relies on ostensional allocation of nomina to taxa rather than on intensional definitions of nomina, is again stressed. It is suggested that all taxonomists should follow the Code for the allocation and validity of nomina, whatever taxonomic theory they favour, and in particular whatever kinds of definitions or diagnoses they wish to use for taxa. This would avoid the considerable loss of manpower, ime and energy that would be required by the implementation of a new nomenclatural system (e.g., in order to require "phylogenetic definitions" for nomina, or to make nomenclature fully monosemic), and the confusion that would result for most users of nomina. The new paradigm imposed to biology by the combination of the taxonomic impediment and of the biodiversity crisis requires from taxonomists, who are already considerably much less numerous than required by this new situation, to concentrate on what should be their priority at the beginning of the century of extinctions, namely the inventory of the living species of our planet before they get extinct.
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The scientific names (nomina) of higher-ranked taxa (above the superfamily) of animals are not regulated by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, but by "consensus" among workers. However, when there exists no real consensus, a frequent situation, some criteria must be used to establish which nomen should be considered valid for any given taxon. With the multiplication of taxa that follows the development of cladistic analyses, the implementation of such rules will become more and more necessary and important. To be acceptable by all zoologists worldwide, today and tomorrow, these rules should be independent from the philosophy of taxonomy adopted, but should allow unambiguous, automatic and universal allocation of a single nomen to each higher taxon, within the frame of any taxonomy, including "phylogenetic" ones. This first paper is devoted to the detailed discussion of general theoretical and terminological problems related with this question. It is here argued that it is misleading and dangerous to try and make nomenclature artificially "simple". The problems posed by the naming of millions of kinds of organisms, related through evolution and that have been studied for two and a half century under different approaches, are indeed complex: this complexity should be acknowledged, and the discipline in charge of this study should be recognized as a specific technical field, with its own methods, concepts and terms. Among various proposals made in this paper, it is suggested to definitely abandon the misleading term "type" in taxonomy and nomenclature, objective categories for the "usage" of nomina are defined for the first time, and a distinction is made between taxonomic "categories" and nomenclatural "ranks". © Publications Scientifiques du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle.
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At the beginning of the century of extinctions, science has only inventoried a very small proportion of the living species of the globe. In order to face the taxonomic urgency that results from this taxonomic gap combined with the biodiversity crisis, zootaxonomy needs efficient, rigorous and automatic nomenclatural Rules, that allow to spend a minimal time on nomenclatural problems—rather than investing time, energy and money in renaming millions of already named taxa in order to follow alternative nomenclatural systems, e.g., “phylogenetic” ones, that furthermore do not show theoretical superiority to the current Linnaean-Stricklandian one. The current Code, result of a 250-year improvement process, is based on very sound and healthy Rules, being theory-free regarding taxonomy, relying on objective allocation of nomina to taxa by a system of ostension using onomatophores, and on an objective basic Principle, priority, for recognizing the valid nomen of a taxon in case of synonymy or homonymy. Nevertheless, this nomenclatural system is certainly not perfect. It should be modified at least in nine directions: (1) it should adopt a technical terminology avoiding possible misinterpretations from outsiders of the field and even from specialists, and allowing a precise formalisation of its mode of functioning; (2) its plan should be drastically modified; (3) its Principles should be redefined, and some added; (4) material evidence for the allocation of nomina to taxa through specimens deposited in permanent collections should be given more weight; (5) it should incorporate all nomina of higher taxa, providing clear and strict universal Rules for their naming, whereas conserving the traditional nomina largely used in non-specialized systematic literature; (6) it should allow for the recognition of many more ranks at lower nomenclatural levels, i.e., just above genus, between genus and species, and below species; (7) it should provide much more stringent Rules for the protection against priority of “wellknown” nomina or sozonyms; (8) various “details” should be addressed, various Rules and Recommendations changed before a new edition of the Code is published; (9) the procedure of implementations of changes in the Code should be modified in order to involve zootaxonomists of the whole world in the decisions. In several instances, the Rules of the Code should become much more compulsory for all zoologists, editors and publishers, to avoid the publication of endless and sometimes most detrimental discussions among taxonomists which give a poor image of nomenclature and taxonomy among the biological sciences, such as bitter discussions about the “best” nomen to be used under a so-called “usage” philosophy, or about nomina to be applied to higher taxa. Code-compliance in zootaxonomic publications should be highlighted, and editors and publishers should require from authors who follow alternative nomenclatural Rules (or no rule at all) to make it clear by using particular modes of writing their nomina. It is argued here that if the Code of the 21st century does not evolve to incorporate these changes, it will prove unable to play its role in front of several important recent theoretical and practical developments of taxonomy and run the risk of being abandoned by a part of the international community of zootaxonomists. The latter could then adopt alternative “phylogenetic” nomenclatural Rules, despite the severe practical problems and theoretical flaws posed by such projects. This would be most detrimental for all comparative biological disciplines including systematics, and even for the unity of biology. In the course of this discussion, a few recommendations are given concerning the standards and guidelines suggested by recent authors for a good, modern, integrative taxonomy.
Book
Frank E. Zachos offers a comprehensive review of one of today’s most important and contentious issues in biology: the species problem. After setting the stage with key background information on the topic, the book provides a brief history of species concepts from antiquity to the Modern Synthesis, followed by a discussion of the ontological status of species with a focus on the individuality thesis and potential means of reconciling it with other philosophical approaches. More than 30 different species concepts found in the literature are presented in an annotated list, and the most important ones, including the Biological, Genetic, Evolutionary and different versions of the Phylogenetic Species Concept, are discussed in more detail. Specific questions addressed include the problem of asexual and prokaryotic species, intraspecific categories like subspecies and Evolutionarily Significant Units, and a potential solution to the species problem based on a hierarchical approach that distinguishes between ontological and operational species concepts. A full chapter is dedicated to the challenge of delimiting species by means of a discrete taxonomy in a continuous world of inherently fuzzy boundaries. Further, the book outlines the practical ramifications for ecology and evolutionary biology of how we define the species category, highlighting the danger of an apples and oranges problem if what we subsume under the same name (“species”) is in actuality a variety of different entities. A succinct summary chapter, glossary and annotated list of references round out the coverage, making the book essential reading for all biologists looking for an accessible introduction to the historical, philosophical and practical dimensions of the species problem.
Book
A work that "not only treats of irony but is irony," wrote a contemporary reviewer of The Concept of Irony, with Continual Reference to Socrates. Presented here with Kierkegaard's notes of the celebrated Berlin lectures on "positive philosophy" by F.W.J. Schelling, the book is a seedbed of Kierkegaard's subsequent work, both stylistically and thematically. Part One concentrates on Socrates, the master ironist, as interpreted by Xenophon, Plato, and Aristophanes, with a word on Hegel and Hegelian categories. Part Two is a more synoptic discussion of the concept of irony in Kierkegaard's categories, with examples from other philosophers and with particular attention given to A. W. Schlegel's novel Lucinde as an epitome of romantic irony. The Concept of Irony and the Notes of Schelling's Berlin Lectures belong to the momentous year 1841, which included not only the completion of Kierkegaard's university work and his sojourn in Berlin, but also the end of his engagement to Regine Olsen and the initial writing of Either/Or.