Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Taxonomy Puzzles

In his blog Taxonomy vs. Systematics Dave Hone suspected that at least some paleontologist are not aware that systematics and taxonomy are two different things.
Even worse: As I wrote earlier both are completely ignored in a large number of paleontology related research articles! The authors of these articles do use species names but there is no 'systematics/taxonomy' section which explains the taxonomic concept of the author.

Some may now argue that this is not a problem because many species used in these investigations are so common or simple that everybody knows what is meant by species XY. But this is not true. For example it has been shown by the 'ElKef blind test' (to clarify how aprupt the K/T extinction really was) that differing taxonomic concepts can drastically reduce the comparability of scientific results (Lipps, 1997, Keller, 1997).
There are many reasons why this happens: Taxon names change, names are wrongly assigned or different reference specimen or images are used etc. The result is a big chaos of synonymies which is hard to unpuzzle. Therefore, scientists may use the same taxon name but mean totally different species.

By carefully prepared synonymy lists taxonomists traditionally try to track such taxonomic changes. With our TaxonConcept tool we have stored thousands of synonymy lists and it is often surprising how complicated it can get when e.g. synonyms of taxon names get their own synonymy lists or taxon names have been wrongly assigned. As an example, the picture on the top of this page which shows a graph of the relations of the taxon 'Archaeoglobigerina cretacea' to other taxon names which includes hundreds of other taxon names.
So, if you use taxon names in your studies try to provide some hints on what your taxonomic concept is. Otherwise you may leave future generations of with taxonomy puzzles like this.


Keller, Gerta: Analysis of El Kef blind test I, Marine Micropaleontology, Volume 29, Issue 2, January 1997, Pages 89-93.

Lipps, Jere H.: The cretaceous-tertiary boundary: The El Kef blind test, Marine Micropaleontology, Volume 29, Issue 2, January 1997, Pages 65-66.

1 comment:

archosaurmusings said...

I just want to clarify, I didn't say I think some palaeontolgoists don't know the difference between texonomy and systematics, I meant some of the readers of my blog might not know the difference. In hindsight however, there are probably a few who don't...