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Does counting taxonomic categories help?

Posted by TimC on 25 Aug 2011 at 11:11 GMT

While it's easy to count species, the data produced are just a measure of human classification and may or may not relate to the total number of gene locations, the variability of gene loci, the available permutations of gene combinations or the distribution of gene variations.

Was the Victorian physicist really closer to the mark, or is it possible to be more specific in the value of counting species?

The anecdote about rice variation does not really relate to counting species. Or have I missed something?


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RE: Does counting taxonomic categories help?

JJGiacomini replied to TimC on 25 Aug 2011 at 21:20 GMT

Well of course they are measures of human classification, that is the first step.

And I agree that the Rice anecdote seems a bit off topic. I think the author was just trying to support the concept of protecting species that we don't know exist.

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RE: RE: Does counting taxonomic categories help?

TimC replied to JJGiacomini on 26 Aug 2011 at 12:02 GMT

Assuming that the objective of saving species is to preserve some form of genetic variation, surely we need some measure of the genetic variation within a sample biomass, rather than a some measure of judgement.

If the current categorisation approach is the best that we can do at the moment, then surely that should be stated together with the intended objective and how the concept of species will evolve.

Is that what you mean by 'first step'? If it is, then the context of the objective and later steps would be useful.

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Specific vs. genetic richness

Napoletano replied to TimC on 06 Sep 2011 at 04:44 GMT

Any classification system is going to inherently reflect some degree of human judgement. Even something as precise as genetic variation will miss "cultural" diversity (i.e. differences in learned traits, such as song character in passerines and vocal mammals), and someone still has to determine what constitutes a big enough divergence to qualify as a species (unless we were to do away with the current taxonomic system altogether, which would really confuse the issue). I think it's generally taken as a given that the current taxonomic approach is imperfect and could use some improvement, but, as May points out, actually coming up with an estimate of how many species exist would represent significant progress.

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