Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Little Biased in Taxonomy

          There will never be an end to taxonomic adjustifications, as probably all taxonomists will tell you. Biologists are still discovering new species and higher groups of organisms abundantly, and with these new discoveries comes new taxonomic responsibilities: making room for their name on the scroll of taxonomy. Everybody who has worked in a collection arranging specimens into their phylogenetic ranking have asked them selves; "Do I include the Tiger beetles in the Ground beetles?" or likewise, a question to that same effect.

In most Insect collections, the specimens are arranged at the very least to family level. Most entomologists also tend the place their focus's on family level groups. Could this be coincidental? Maybe. But weather the arrangement of collections affects the taxonomic level of interest in an entomologist, or the taxonomic level of interest in entomologist affects organization in a collection, it does not change the question: "Is taxonomy biased?" Whoa. This is bold, of course. After all, like an honest referee, there are more honest taxonomists than not. But how about in a collection that you manage your self or you know the manager of, does it line up with with your/his/her personal likings all too well?

Sandia Mtns. Leptotyphlininae, lateral left view
Leptotyphlininae in the Staphylinidae, used to be ranked at family level.
Copyright: Edward L. Ruden 2011
Under Creative Commons License 

A little while ago, Sam Wells was telling me a story about finding an uncommon family, Leptotyphlinidae. He combed a series out of a dead beavers fur, shortly after it had died (where this group can sometimes be found). Towards the end of the conversation, he stated: "I think they're now considered Staphylinids, though." "Oh, that's not quite as exciting..." I joked. (For the record, Rove beetles are cool! Just not a family I've really studied.) -Here (me being the guilty party) is an example of this biased I'm talking about.

At the Bean Museum, Shawn Clark (Collection Manager and Chrysomelidae (Leaf beetles) specialist) chooses not to include the Bruchinae/dae in the Chrysomelidae. Do I think this is bad? Definitely not. In my own collection I treat Cicindelinae as Carabidae, even though this happens to be more popular ranking, how can we ever come to a mutual agreement? The truthful answer is that we can't. Evolution is a slow process, we can't exactly pinpoint where Cicindelinae drifted off into Cicindelidae, where is the defining line? Many taxonomists think that numbers should determine that line if the genetics are still corresponding. Other taxonomists will simply pick and choose how to rank their families and other groups.

Omoglymmius - Omoglymmius hamatus
Omoglymmius hamatus (LeConte)
Copyright: Alex Wild 2004
Note: I personally obtained permission to use this photograph.
Thank you, Alex!

I found a few of these Rhysodids last year. Thy were stationed under the bark of log in a mixed Fir and Pine forest in the southern Seirra. Rhysodidae (Wrinkled Bark Beetle) themselves, are in somewhat of a taxonomic limbo. They are being treated more and more as Ground beetles. The similarities are pretty enticing, but if it came to it, I might be a little reluctant to rank it as a Ground beetle in my collection. While I love Ground beetles, I don't want to strip this other awesome group of it's family level pride. I honestly may even look the other way. After all, it is still the same species.

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