lep names

Kondla, Norbert FOR:EX Norbert.Kondla at gems3.gov.bc.ca
Wed Jan 31 18:15:11 EST 2001

Absolutely no need to apologize for sharing such an open-minded, realistic,
and well-informed view on this topic. It needed to be said.
-----Original Message-----
From: John Shuey [mailto:jshuey at tnc.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 31, 2001 2:23 PM
To: leps
Subject: Re: lep names
> Lep folks,
> FYI, at its annual meeting last summer, the Lep Soc passed a motion:
> "that a committee be formed to draft a position statement on the
> rules and guidelines by which taxonomic decisions are made and to
> examine the possibility of developing a list of scientific names for
> North American butterflies."
The basic problem with this idea is the lack of a clear consensus of what
a species.  I think this is indeed a basic problem that will not be resolved
that everyone will be happy.  So what definition do we use?  Biological
concepts? Phylogentic? Phenetic? Evolutionary lineage? A confused
All these approaches have merits and disadvantages.  The official list will
to be based on some imperfect approach to this problem.
Choosing a solution and force feeding it to the world inhibits the creative
process.  A good example would be the many new subspecies described in Ron
Gatrelle's Taxonomic Review.  The Opler led "Committee", which has strong
conservative leanings tried to bury the bulk of the names.  Lost in all this
the thought provoking nature of these taxa.  Species and subspecies are
all, only human generated concepts which try to explain the natural world.
these concepts represent true lineages? Do they shed light on evolutionary
biogeographic patterns?  Will we ever know?  If the Committee has its way,
names would be quickly buried for all time, and no one would ever dare dig
up or investigate them in the field.  The Committee does a disservice to
minds - many of us actually have thought processes of our own.
Look at what might have (and in fact briefly did) happen with Papilio
Despite the fact that Hietzman actually presented a very convincing case
supporting a biological species concept in the original description, "better
scientific minds" knew better, and immediately sunk it.  If it weren't such
distinctive species (it really isn't that similar looking to P polyxenes if
have a feel for machaon phenotypes) it may still be lost today.  But despite
proclamations of "better minds" they simply could not make this inconvenient
butterfly go away.
So now we want to institutionalize a Committee of better minds, such that we
KNOW the species.
Well when I grew up, biology was an interesting subject, full of mystery and
intrigue.  Evolution was a fluid, continuous process.
Boy, I guess I was wrong.  The Committee will define for us a static species
- based on such rigorous criteria as "this is the consensus of the
(also known as the "we said so and we know best species concept").  All
obviously happened in the past, so that  the committee can clearly see the
result and can  truly KNOW the Species. (And of course don't forget that
this is
what it is all about - providing a static list of The Species so people can
their life lists - bio-complexity should not be allowed to interfere with
But you know, despite all the "better minds" out there, we figured out that
Earth ain't flat, nor the center of the universe.  And to be honest, I
that Darwin established the concept of evolution as an ongoing process as
(this Darwin thing might be too recent to have infiltrated too deeply into
Lepidoptera community though).
So, should species be easily identifiable?  Maybe - and maybe not.  Do we
want to
impose a sanctioned "concept of species" for butterflies.  Definitely not.
like a good mystery - especially the mystery of life.
I apologize for both my cynicism and sarcasm,
John Shuey
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