Taxonomy and Conservation. Was: Cabin Fever and Taxonomy

J.E. Shields
Sat, 24 Jan 2004 10:06:29 PST
A species is a plastic thing, alive, and dynamic.  Sampling a species at 
two different times is like stepping into the same river twice -- in a 
certain sense, it is not possible to sample the same thing twice.  Each 
time we revisit, we are seeing a slightly different entity, be it river or 

For instance, the balance between various alleles of a given gene in the 
population will probably shift over time.  This is inevitably going to be 
true as our climate changes.  After all, climate IS going to change!  If it 
were not for man-made warming of this planet, we would have probably 
already been starting the next ice age.  Interglacials are short, ice ages 
are long, and the last ice age ended about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.  We 
are getting over-due for new glaciers.

This fluid biodiversity is also why we should do things like sampling a 
species over many different points across its geographic range.  After all, 
a species is a population, not a single individual.  Until we start massive 
cloning of organisms, and genetic manipulations to restore sexual forms, a 
self-sterile species is extinct the moment it is down to one 
individual.  If we want to practice ex situ preservation (preserving a 
species by growing it in cultivation) we each should grow the climatic or 
geographic population that is best suited to our local ex situ 
climate.  Even then, we are not preserving the species as it was when we 
collected the plants for our ex situ garden.  We are preserving one aspect 
of that original population.  We really must keep this in mind whenever we 
are dealing with a rare species.

I'm firmly convinced that it is better to preserve part of a vanishing 
species than to preserve none of it.  Not everyone shares that view, of 
course.  There are a few people out there who apparently would like to 
preserve all of every wild species, and would rather see all members of a 
species dead than to preserve only some of them.

Jim Shields
in central Indiana (USA)

Jim Shields             USDA Zone 5             Shields Gardens, Ltd.
P.O. Box 92              WWW:
Westfield, Indiana 46074, USA
Tel. ++1-317-867-3344     or      toll-free 1-866-449-3344 in USA

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