From Wired Science:
A New Taxonomy Tries to Change an Ancient System
By Kristen Philipkoski
May 23, 2007
Kevin de Queiroz, a zoologist and curator at the Smithsonian‘s National Museum of Natural History backs a movement to change the way we name species.
I quoted him in a story on Carolus Linnaeus, who’s 300th birthday would have been today.
But I couldn’t fit in all of the interesting stuff he had to say, so here it is:
I am part of the group that is putting together the PhyloCode. Whether it’s supposed to replace the “Linnaean System” depends on what you mean by that.
We are NOT proposing to replace Linnaeus’s classification/taxonomy—that’s been happening for hundreds of years.
Some of Linnaeus’s groups, or taxa, have survived just fine ( e.g., Mammalia), others have not (e.g., most of his classes of plants).
The PhyloCode also is NOT proposing to eliminate the taxonomic ranks (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, etc.), which stem largely from the work of Linnaeus (though there are some supporters of the PhyloCode who also advocate what may be called “rank-free taxonomy,” which does propose to eliminate the ranks).
Nor are we proposing to eliminate binomial species names.
What we ARE proposing to do is replace the rules governing the names of clades (groups of species that share an exclusive common ancestry).
Tropical plant studies are far from equator
St. Louis collection draws faraway scientists
BY BETSY TAYLOR
Article Last Updated: 06/16/2007 03:12:34 AM CDT
ST. LOUIS – Hunched over her desk at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Cynthia Hong-Wa scrutinizes tropical plants found only in her homeland almost 9,600 miles away in Madagascar.
She collected 50 plant specimens from the African island, but it is here that she learns about them – in a program where she compares her samples to others drawn from roughly 6 million dried plants preserved in an herbarium in St. Louis.
Hong-Wa uses a digital caliper and sometimes peers through a microscope to measure leaves, flowers and fruits from her samples, as she works to define differences between the plant species she focuses on, shrubs and small trees known as Leptolaena. They’re not the prettiest plants around, but Hong-Wa says their beauty comes from their diversity.
Understanding the differences will help efforts to protect those that are endangered.
Scholars from more than 20 nations conduct research at the Whitney R. Harris World Ecology Center, which has an international reputation for its ecology and conservation research and educational programs. Based at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the center draws on resources at the botanical garden and the St. Louis Zoo, both among the top institutions of their kind.
“We’re from the tropics, but we come here to study the tropics,” said Hong-Wa. “We come here to have a better understanding of what’s going on there.”
The tropical ecology center, tied to the university’s biology department, has 50 doctoral
students and 80 in the master’s program. Linking the garden and zoo to the university allowed the program to provide resources that many others did not have.
Students can use the botanical garden’s herbarium, which looks something like the stacks in a library but smells faintly like a spice rack.
Peter Stevens, the Whitney center’s director, turns a knob to open up an aisle between two rows of shelves, and the lights kick on overhead. On the shelves are pages upon pages of mounted plant specimens from all over the world, with information including their names, who identified them and the geographic coordinates for where they were collected.
The specimens, their pollen and seedlings can be studied. Researchers can determine how a plant’s anatomy changed over time, what the whole plant looks like and where it grows.
The herbarium’s plant stock comes from botanists who send in specimens stuck on acid-free paper and often wrapped in foreign-language newspapers to protect them during their travels.
Students draw from the latest scientific literature as well as rare books, like a 1735 copy of Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae, a Latin text that Stevens handles gently. The book classifies organisms in a system that became the international standard.
The students also have opportunities to learn from researchers, assisting them with international work.
Patricia Parker, a professor in zoological studies, is studying three groups of pathogens, or disease-causing agents, on the Galapagos Islands located 625 miles off Ecuador’s Pacific coast. The pathogens include one parasite that was having a detrimental affect on certain populations, like the Galapagos hawk, particularly on smaller islands.
The Galapagos Islands are known for their unique plant and animal life. Charles Darwin’s observations of its finches inspired his theory of evolution.
While the Galapagos National Park already works to keep tourism from having a negative impact on the islands, the findings led researchers to recommend that tourism be further restricted on smaller islands to avoid accidental introduction of new disease agents to particularly at-risk populations.
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