Neo-Science of Natural History : Integration of Geoscience and Biodiversity Studies;Proceedings


Taxonomy : A Discipline Central to Integrative Biology

Mawatari, Shunsuke F.

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KEYWORDS : Taxonomy;Hypothesis testing;Descriptive;Classification;Integrative biology;Fundamental study;Derived studies


Taxonomists contribute to science in three ways: recognition of taxa, classification of taxa, and integration of information on taxa. Recognition of taxa is first performed at the species level. The fact that taxonomy at the species level is regarded as descriptive, rather than utilizing hypothesis testing, is perhaps why it is difficult for biologists other than taxonomists to understand taxonomy as a science, hence the low reputation of taxonomy. Most biologists consider, and refer to, as "science" only the disciplines of biology using hypothesis testing. Although a large part of a taxonomic paper is dedicated to description, however, taxonomy is itself a science based on hypothesis testing. If you wonder whether the specimen before you belongs to a described species or not, you first adopt a hypothesis that the specimen is an undescribed species, then begin to test this hypothesis using comparative morphology, distributional data, or any other tools available. You observe the specimen, describe it morphologically, compare it with those species close to it, decide that it is an undescribed species, name it, and finally publish a paper on the new species. Taxonomy has been misunderstood by people as merely descriptive, but in fact, it uses hypothesis testing in addition to description, and thus is as scientific as disciplines of biology other than taxonomy. In another respect, there is a basic difference between taxonomy at the species level and biology other than taxonomy. Taxonomy discovers a species, and then biology other than taxonomy does studies based on that species. In this sense, taxonomy at the species level is fundamental, whereas biology other than taxonomy is derived. Derived studies could not be performed if there were not outcomes from the fundamental biology, whereas fundamental studies can be done in the absence of derived studies. At the second level of taxonomy, currently the most popular method to classify taxa is according to phylogeny. There is a fundamental difference between phylogenetic and orthodox classification: the former classifies organisms by branching order or sharing the most recent common ancestor, based on derived characters, whereas the latter classifies organisms by all their features. Cell fate determination in the Ascidian embryo, as an analogy between phylogeny and embryology, helps to make a point. In ascidians, there is a polyphyletic origin of tissues, such as epidermis or nerve cord. Two cells with the most recent common ancestor can belong to entirely different tissues in an organism. Likewise, two terminal taxa with the most recent common ancestor can be entirely different in many features. If a species obtains a certain niche in the world of biodiversity, it doesn't matter what the process is. The scenario of ontogeny is opportunistic and casual, so is that of phylogeny. Common ancestry is a trivial event; only the result has meaning. These days, a vast amount of biological information is rapidly accumulating. Who might be interested in integration of these data? No one other than taxonomists would like to do, and can do, this kind of work. Taxonomists have already done some sorts of integrative work by publishing encyclopedias, biodiversity series, classification series etc. Collaboration with informatics is crucial for taxonomy to construct databases, one of the ideal depositories for biological information. In this way, taxonomists can integrate the vast amount of biological information that is scattered across the various disciplines of biology, taken from the levels of genomes, cells, individuals, taxa and so on. So, we expect taxonomy in the future to be a discipline central to all of integrative biology.