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Re: Re: *germanica*

  • Subject: Re: [iris-photos] Re: *germanica*
  • From: Robt R Pries <rpries@sbcglobal.net>
  • Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2004 07:03:53 -0800 (PST)


Concerning the species concept, one of my favorite stories took place at the International Symposium I put on in St. Louis at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. I was talking to Peter Goldblatt the world authority on the Iris family. I pointed out that Brian Mathew, who is a lumper, and Rodionenko, who is a splitter, and who were both presenting at the conference along with Peter, basically agreed on the grouping and relationship on species, but they really only disagreed on the rank. Peter replied, ?Well, rank is everything, isn?t it??

I think that David?s concept of species is perfectly logical and is probably the main way animals are classified, ala Ernst Mayr. It is also the trend among many botanists. Because of our newfound tools (DNA analysis) more emphasis is being placed on genealogy. But I was a plant ecologist also, and tend to want to apply another approach. Each species occupying a distinct niche. Despite the exchange of genetic material between populations of PCN.s I note that each species currently named has distinct habitat requirements. Normally subspecies are geographically isolated so this rank would probably not be applied. Many botanists are ignoring varieties today as inconsequential. This creates a problem. One of the earliest definitions of species was the different kinds of plants. Taxonomists served a purpose in enumerating the natural world. They provided names for the different types of plants the general public encountered. Today this purpose is no longer being served. Taxonomists are intent on the fascinating topic of evolution and the public is left with a few key names, each of which is applied to a great variety of plants that have been reduced to synonyms. Unfortunately this is having a negative effect on preserving diversity. There is no endangered subspecies act. The first question I get when I lecture to garden groups is; ?how many species are there??.  Despite spending a great deal of time enumerating the varieties and cultivars I continually to encounter prejudices against cultivars as suddenly becoming ?unnatural? once they are named. I fully understand how botanists have been caught up in this trap. Understanding the phylogeny of a group is a thrilling mental activity, and current methods have allowed us to attack the problem at the levels of order and subclass that previously were relatively weak in scientific approach. But as prairie ecologist I was very interested in population ecology and many taxonomists have forgotton that speciation works at the varietal level more so than at the species level. I do not have a solution to this problem since if you apply old names people think you don?t know the latest thinking. But unfortunately if people are not well informed, the latest thinking will add only minimally to their wisdom. I hope the group will forgive this philosophical treatise.


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