CLAS News Release
Feb. 27, 2008
Norman I. Platnick
American Museum of Natural History, New York
Arizona State University
Natural History Museum, London
The Field Museum, Chicago
Zoological Research Museum, Bonn
Inaugural Linnaean Legacy Lecture and symposium to mark new International Institute for Species Exploration
Taxonomy, the science responsible for species exploration and classification, has been largely ignored in recent decades – a disregard that a new International Institute for Species Exploration is out to change.
To bring attention to cybertaxonomy and to celebrate the founding of the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University, a symposium and inaugural Linnaean Legacy Lecture is planned for March 3 on ASU’s Tempe campus. The symposium – “What’s on Your Planet? Species Exploration and Charting Biodiversity” – will be held from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in the Fulton Center, Sixth Floor Boardroom. The inaugural Linnaean Legacy Lecture, co-sponsored by the institute and the Linnean Society of London, will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Life Sciences Building, A-Wing, Room 191.
The guest lecturer is Norman I. Platnick, the Peter J. Solomon Family Curator of Spiders at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. His topic is “Coming of Age (at 250!): The Past, Present and Future of the Systematics Workforce.”
In his talk, Platnick will use spiders as a test case to assess the progress made, over the past 250 years, toward achieving the primary goal of biological systematics – a maximally predictive classification of all organisms. According to Platnick, this relatively slow rate of progress is contrasted with that achievable by harnessing the power of the Internet to transform systematists from "lone wolves" into a cohesive workforce, using current projects in spider systematics as examples.
Platnick has worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York since obtaining his doctorate from Harvard University in 1973. He studies the systematics, phylogenetics, and biogeography of spiders, and is on the faculty of the City University of New York, Cornell University and Columbia University, as well as the American Museum's newly established Richard Gilder Graduate School. He has served as program director for the Biodiversity Surveys and Inventories program at the National Science Foundation, as president of the International Society of Arachnology and the Willi Hennig Society, and as a member of the editorial board of more than a dozen scientific journals.
The lecture is named for the great Swedish naturalist, Carl von Linne – also known as Carolus Linnaeus – who initiated the modern system of plant and animal names and classifications. The 300th anniversary of his birth was celebrated worldwide in 2007. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the beginning of animal naming.
Preceding the lecture is an afternoon symposium – “What’s on Your Planet? Species Exploration and Charting Biodiversity.” Six distinguished scholars will address the topic with individual presentations.
The “Taxonomic Renaissance” will be the subject of a talk by Quentin Wheeler, founding director of the International Institute for Species Exploration. Wheeler, an entomologist, is also the ASU vice president and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Previously, Wheeler was keeper and head of the Department of Entomology at The Natural History Museum in London, a position he assumed after working 24 years at Cornell University where he was a professor in entomology and plant biology. Wheeler also served as director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology.
“Our vision is to spark a renaissance in taxonomy through a transdisciplinary fusion of ideas and technologies,” says Wheeler. “In particular, we are in concert with partner museums and botanical gardens around the world, committed to transforming taxonomy into what will effectively prove a new field: cybertaxonomy,” he says.
“This fusion of the traditional theories and goals of taxonomy with computer engineering and cyberinfrastructure will create a powerful, distributed, worldwide research platform for descriptive taxonomy,” Wheeler says.
“This goes far, far beyond databases or Web sites,” he say. “One of our first projects is designing a network of remotely operable digital microscopes so that a scientist in Brazil might manipulate, examine and photograph a type specimen in a museum in London, while videoconferencing at the same time with a colleague in the United States.”
Among the other speakers is David Williams, senior researcher and head of Global Biodiversity in the Botany Department of the Natural History Museum, London. He conducts research into the systematics and biogeography of freshwater diatoms, and the history, philosophy and theories of comparative biology, particularly cladistics. Williams will talk about “Artificial and Natural Classifications: Why the Distinction Still Matters.”
Williams notes: “In 1738 Carl Linnaeus wrote of the differences between artificial and natural classifications; in 1813 Augustin Pyramus De Candolle provided a definitive account of their distinction. Since Candolle’s time the distinction has been lost such that, in 2001, molecular phylogenetist Joe Felsenstein, for example, suggested that ‘systematics has shifted massively away from classification: it is the phylogenies that are central.’” Williams’ presentation will deal with that shift, how DeCandolle distinguished between natural and artificial classifications and how an understanding of that distinction can assist in the pursuit of a natural classification of organisms regardless of the source of data or organizing principle.
Olivier Rieppel, is the MacArthur Curator of Fossil Reptiles and chair of the Department of Geology at the Field Museum in Chicago. Over the past few years he has pursued the global revision of Triassic stem-group Sauropterygia, marine reptiles that later gave rise to the more widely known plesiosaurs, pliosaurs and elasmosaurs of the Jurassic and Cretaceous. This work provided the basis for the ongoing collaborative research program with faculty and students of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and the Peking University in Beijing, focusing on new collections of Triassic marine reptiles from southern China. More recently, Rieppel became involved with research on the origin of snakes. His collaborative research seeks to integrate paleontology, comparative morphology and molecular systematics.
Rieppel will talk about "Understanding Species as Processual Systems.” Species are best understood, according to Rieppel, “as open or closed processual systems that play a causal role in nature. Such a perspective requires a comprehensive approach to species identity and identification. The individuation of species is not completed with a DNA profile, but is further informed by morphological, physiological, behavioral, ecological, and other relevant characteristics of the species.”
Robert E. Kohler, emeritus professor of the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, writes on the institutions and practices of modern science, especially the field sciences. His most recent book is “All Creatures: Naturalists, Collectors, and Biodiversity.”
“Systematics: An Historian’s View,” is the title of Kohler’s talk. “Systematics since Linnaeus has advanced not in a steady upward line but in spurts of fast-paced discovery,” says Kohler, who draws on his recent book on collecting expeditions in the period 1880-1930, to propose a model “for this lumpy history that combines elements from environmental, cultural and science history.”
Michael Schmitt is editor-in-chief of Bonner zooogische Beiträge and a member of the board of the International Society of Zoological Sciences. From October 1992 he was curator of beetles at Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn and head of the entomological department and second vice-director of the museum.
Schmitt will talk about “Willi Hennig's Part in the History of Systematics." He will outline family and historical background of Willi Hennig as a person and as a scientist, especially the scientific environment in which he formed his ideas. “Willi Hennig's ‘Phylogenetic Systematics’ was a turning point in the development of biological systematics,” Schmitt says.
Diana Lipscomb, a professor of biological sciences, teaches courses in evolution, the history of life, and invertebrate zoology at George Washington University where she founded the Weintraub Program in Systematics and Evolution. The Weintraub program includes five endowed faculty chairs in systematics and biodiversity, a graduate program affiliated with the National Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, and spearheads research into the discovery of species and uncovering their phylogenetic relationships. Lipscomb has been an officer for the Hennig Society, Society of Systematic Biologists, Society of Evolutionary Protistology, and International Organization for Systematic and Evolutionary Biology, and an NSF program officer in Systematic Biology where she initiated the Assembling the Tree of Life program.
The title of her talk is “Species Discovery at a Microscopic Scale: Why Knowing Microorganisms is Crucial in an Era of Global Change.” She notes: “As Earth's environment changes, emerging diseases and new microbial infections threaten the health of humans and other organisms. Effective reaction to these threats begins with knowing who these microbes are. At the same time, restoring damaged and degraded ecosystems depends in part on knowing the species of microorganisms that provide services such as waste degradation, oxygen production, and toxin removal.”
More information about the March 3 symposium and launch events is available at species.asu.edu.
Carol Hughes, firstname.lastname@example.org
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences