Thursday, September 30, 2010

Discussion Question 1 (History and Biodiversity pattern and process) comments due October 5th

Given that millions of species are yet to be described and named, how should the limited human and financial resources available for taxonomic research be allocated? Should attention be concentrated on poorly known taxa? Should efforts be directed toward areas threatened with habitat destruction so that species can be collected before they are eliminated? Should major efforts be directed to obtain complete 'all taxa" surveys of selected areas? How and by whom should these decisions be made?

7 comments:

Michael Reyes said...

Determining where limited human and financial resources should be allocated for taxonomic research is always going to be a debated topic. Like every other aspect in the world that deals with money, people have differing opinions that range on from one end of the spectrum to the other. In my opinion, resources should be directed to areas threatened with habitat destruction. Less threatened and not threatened species are not going any where any time soon. People should collect information on species that are endangered so future generations could know about them even if they go extinct. More knowledge of these species could create more conservation and awareness for them.

One paper I found called "What do mammalogists want to save? Ten years of mammalian conservation biology," written in 2000, addresses the necessity to utilize limited resources and how they were actually used in the field of mammals. According to the paper, "mammals are one of the best-known groups of living organism, and ‘hotspots’,‘threatspots’ and countries with the largest number of threatened species have already
been identified...However many gaps still exist in our knowledge of the mammals in some tropical regions." The study also showed bias toward some orders, in particular charismatic species. For instance "however, although not globally threatened, some species, such as the brown bear (Ursus arctos), the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) and the wolf (Canis lupus) represent national or continental conservation priorities and probably will continue to receive considerable attention. Much conservation planning is formulated within national boundaries without regard to global conservation priorities, and often results in the bulk of conservation efforts and research being directed toward a minority of large, charismatic species."
It is good to know that these species are well studied but the species that are neglected could be gone the next day.

Another interesting find in this study was "among one of the most studied order, the Carnivora, no paper is devoted to threatened species such as the Dhole (Cuon alpinus), the Bush dog (Speothos venaticus), the Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) and the Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), all considered threatened by IUCN at least from 1986 (IUCN 1986)." This quote shows that resources are disproportional allocated between species where many threaten species are not getting attention.

Something need to be done that utilizes the limited resources so species can be studied before they disappear.

Robert Habern said...

The two parts of this question I felt I could have a strong opinion on were whether funds should be allocated to discovering species that live in quickly disappearing habitats and whether ‘all taxa’ surveys are practical and necessary.

All discovery resource allocation should be hovering around the potential species living within habitats or ecosystems that are disappearing from human over development or pollution. Doing this, I believe, may have multiple benefits. The obvious one will be that we will categorize these unknown species before their time on this planet is up, thus not losing the fact of their existence. Simultaneously, researching these diminishing habitats will gather attention, initially on local levels but eventually nationally and maybe globally. If a scientist discovers a set of brilliant new species, but also reports that the habitat he found them in is 90% gone, that will draw positive attention and increase environmental activism in the area to help alleviate the situation. An understanding of these new species may also uncover a solution to the problem being created by the humans in the first place.

‘All taxa’ surveys need to be undertaken sparingly and be based on certain conditions. If the area in question is disappearing due to overdevelopment, pollution, or any other reason, an ‘all taxa’ survey may be appropriate. It would allow us to discover new species before the area disappears entirely. Also, if an area is being planned for development, and an environmental assessment is being made, an ‘all taxa’ survey could be helpful for this process. Otherwise, I believe these surveys are too laborious and most likely too expensive to be feasible. A paper I found titled “Taxonomy: Impediment or expedient” said that ‘all taxa’ surveys needed to be happening all over the world and quickly in order to find all species before it is too late (Wheeler et. al.). I disagree simply because of the fact that not all habitats are disappearing. I am not condoning habitat destruction nor am I saying that there aren’t places where habitats are quickly disappearing. It simply wouldn’t make sense to put forth so much effort to find species that are not threatened and that would eventually be discovered anyways.

Wheeler et. al., "taxonomomy impediment or expedient." Science. 2004. Science AAAS. October 5, 2012 .

Posted by: Robert Habern, Friday 12:00 noon section Girv 2127

Robert Habern said...

The two parts of this question I felt I could have a strong opinion on were whether funds should be allocated to discovering species that live in quickly disappearing habitats and whether ‘all taxa’ surveys are practical and necessary.

All discovery resource allocation should be hovering around the potential species living within habitats or ecosystems that are disappearing from human over development or pollution. Doing this, I believe, may have multiple benefits. The obvious one will be that we will categorize these unknown species before their time on this planet is up, thus not losing the fact of their existence. Simultaneously, researching these diminishing habitats will gather attention, initially on local levels but eventually nationally and maybe globally. If a scientist discovers a set of brilliant new species, but also reports that the habitat he found them in is 90% gone, that will draw positive attention and increase environmental activism in the area to help alleviate the situation. An understanding of these new species may also uncover a solution to the problem being created by the humans in the first place.

‘All taxa’ surveys need to be undertaken sparingly and be based on certain conditions. If the area in question is disappearing due to overdevelopment, pollution, or any other reason, an ‘all taxa’ survey may be appropriate. It would allow us to discover new species before the area disappears entirely. Also, if an area is being planned for development, and an environmental assessment is being made, an ‘all taxa’ survey could be helpful for this process. Otherwise, I believe these surveys are too laborious and most likely too expensive to be feasible. A paper I found titled “Taxonomy: Impediment or expedient” said that ‘all taxa’ surveys needed to be happening all over the world and quickly in order to find all species before it is too late (Wheeler et. al.). I disagree simply because of the fact that not all habitats are disappearing. I am not condoning habitat destruction nor am I saying that there aren’t places where habitats are quickly disappearing. It simply wouldn’t make sense to put forth so much effort to find species that are not threatened and that would eventually be discovered anyways.

Wheeler et. al., "taxonomomy impediment or expedient." Science. 2004. Science AAAS. October 5, 2012 .

Posted by: Robert Habern, Friday 12:00 noon section Girv 2127

Christine said...

It is difficult to address where funding should be allocated in terms of taxonomic research. We are nowhere near naming every species and trying to describe and name all 3-30 million species is not a feasible task, especially with finite resources and funding.

First, these decisions should be made by a board comprising of members from different science authorities such as ecologists, taxonomists, conservationists, etc. The board should also include legislators and organizations. Legislators are important because they have the authority to protect certain regions or species and organizations can help raiser public awareness to the importance of taxonomic research. Where is the best place to start? The majority of the poorly known taxa are insects, primarily invertebrates. Although as biologists we care immensely about these taxas that are unknown, they do not command much attention from the public, media, nor organizations. It would be wise to focus out attention on species that are more likely to become extinct than others. Such species include endemic species, which are species that inhabit small geographic ranges and are unique to that area. Specialist species, species that use a narrow range of food sources or habitats, should also be a likely candidate. Focusing on specific regions would also be a good choice. It is well known that the number of species in a given area of land or water tends to be greater near the equator compared to higher latitudes. Places such as tropical forests tend to lie close to the equator and also suffer from high rates of deforestation. Regions that suffer from habitat loss such as tropical rain forests should get greater priority when it comes to efforts in naming and describing species.

In the paper, Challenges for taxonomy, Godfray raises some interesting points about the effectiveness of taxonomy as a science and how reformation is needed in order for taxonomy to attract large-scale funds. Many ‘newly discovered’ taxas have already been poorly described in isolated works. Many of the available taxonomic data on the internet are not useful to the majority of non-taxonomists. The challenge is to describe and name species faster than they are disappearing but it is also a challenge in keeping taxonomy alive and relevant for present and future conservationists.

Godfray, H.C.J. (2002). Challenges for taxonomy. Nature, 417, 17-19.

Christine said...

It is difficult to address where funding should be allocated in terms of taxonomic research. We are nowhere near naming every species and trying to describe and name all 3-30 million species is not a feasible task, especially with finite resources and funding.

First, these decisions should be made by a board comprising of members from different science authorities such as ecologists, taxonomists, conservationists, etc. The board should also include legislators and organizations. Legislators are important because they have the authority to protect certain regions or species and organizations can help raiser public awareness to the importance of taxonomic research. Where is the best place to start? The majority of the poorly known taxa are insects, primarily invertebrates. Although as biologists we care immensely about these taxas that are unknown, they do not command much attention from the public, media, nor organizations. It would be wise to focus out attention on species that are more likely to become extinct than others. Such species include endemic species, which are species that inhabit small geographic ranges and are unique to that area. Specialist species, species that use a narrow range of food sources or habitats, should also be a likely candidate. Focusing on specific regions would also be a good choice. It is well known that the number of species in a given area of land or water tends to be greater near the equator compared to higher latitudes. Places such as tropical forests tend to lie close to the equator and also suffer from high rates of deforestation. Regions that suffer from habitat loss such as tropical rain forests should get greater priority when it comes to efforts in naming and describing species.

In the paper, Challenges for taxonomy, Godfray raises some interesting points about the effectiveness of taxonomy as a science and how reformation is needed in order for taxonomy to attract large-scale funds. Many ‘newly discovered’ taxas have already been poorly described in isolated works. Many of the available taxonomic data on the internet are not useful to the majority of non-taxonomists. The challenge is to describe and name species faster than they are disappearing but it is also a challenge in keeping taxonomy alive and relevant for present and future conservationists.

Godfray, H.C.J. (2002). Challenges for taxonomy. Nature, 417, 17-19.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

From both an ecological and logistical stand point, given that funding is available taxonomic research should be prioritized towards those species within habitats which are being threatened with permanent destruction for the simple reason that once they are removed, there will be no opportunity for taxonomic record or study.

However, after adapting a realistic standpoint in which funding towards taxonomic research is neither readily obtainable nor consistent, I believe taxonomic scientists should focus their attention on whichever habitat funding is readily available for or easily advertised through means such as flagship species or special interest groups who have already shown an interest in specific ecosystems. This will allow for some work to get done, rather than none at all, as opposed to fighting for funding towards a cause and getting nothing done. Some endangered species may be lost, but ultimately it is better that some work be done than dreaming for more efficient work and getting nothing done at all.

Perhaps one way to increase funding towards taxonomic research would be to increase public awareness through increased educational sites online. Charles J. Godfray speaks in his paper “Challenges for taxonomy” of how little scientists take advantage of the internet in regards to spreading awareness to the general public of the importance of taxonomy. He writes, “One of the astonishing things about being a scientist at this particular time in history is the vast amount of information that is available, essentially free, via one’s desktop computer. I can download the sequences of millions of genes, the positions of countless starts. Yet with a few wonderful exceptions, the quantity of taxonomic information available on the web is pitiful, and what is present (typically simple lists) is of little use to non-taxonomists. But surely taxonomy is made for the web: it is an information-rich subject, often requiring copious illustrations. At present, the output of much taxonomy is expensive printed monographs, or papers in low-circulation journals available only in specialized libraries. These are not attractive ‘deliverables’ for major research funders.”

In an money-driven society, in which funding is the ultimate deciding factor, scientists in the field of taxonomy should reconsider discussing how to most efficiently use the little funding they receive and rather begin to discuss how they can better expose their field to the general public, garner interest, obtain more funding, and ultimately get more taxonomic research done.