[Coral-List] Do coral studies lack crucial species information??

russell @ BYOGUIDES russell at byoguides.com
Mon Jul 23 21:18:16 EDT 2018

Hi Doug

You wrote…. 

Many studies in the Indo Pacific report results only at the genus level, which are vastly easier to ID, and
thus more certain.  But I think this is a potential problem for work done
with individual species in the Indo-Pacific.  What do you think?  We do
need information at the species level, species within genera differ on all
kinds of things, and can differ in dramatic ways.

Doug - I agree we should all be mindful about taxonomic resolution in science / surveys / resource management / conservation etc. With the advent of Corals of the World (COTW) Veron 2000 there existed for the first time a centralised framework for grappling with the Indo Pacific fauna. However even this great achievement was overwhelming for the interested person at the beginning of their coral ID learning pathway. To make COTW more user friendly I created the Coral Finder to act as a Visual Index into the three taxonomically arranged volumes -  a reverse engineered practical solution if you will that unlocked the science within. 

Even with the changes being wrought by the molecular revisions the Coral Finder remains useful because it is primarily a Visual Decision Tool - i.e. it works in the real world. To that end in my coral ID workshops I have opted for a “learn the old - translate to the new” approach. In this way the interested person can still have the benefits of a practical visual learning pathway and be shielded from a complex, confusing taxonomy where the changes sometimes keep changing.

That said I do feel the pace of change in the coral taxonomy literature is starting to slow and that it is probably time for a new synthesis aimed at the interested person. Because many of the changes are not outwardly visually intuitive I don’t look to the taxonomists for a solution here, I feel it will fall to someone with a science communication headspace to create the next fiendishly clever practical coral ID tool.  

To address your concerns with species level Indo Pacific coral ID. We've (the Coral Identification Capacity Building Program) trained over 600 people in coral ID in recent years and I always say at the beginning of our workshops 'learn the genera and the species will come’. The challenge the is then to recognise the same species in different habitats and geographies. Many of the molecular changes (particularly as they relate to the former family Faviidae) are not that surprising - field people understood that some names (both genus and species) were buckets awaiting further delineation. Well now some of these answers are at hand - the problem is that some of the molecular answers are not very intuitive for humans or field friendly. So wile I can understand the excitement for those on the cutting edge of the coral taxonomy using the new techniques I always try and sheet it back to the trying to teach this stuff in the field.  

To that end while it might be ‘possible' to subdivide genera and their species I often feel that we will need to work with some of the old ‘buckets’ going forward - lets call them ‘complexes’. Complexes are more likely to be teachable. If they need unpacking into their most granular units then we will need to fund that kind of detailed and specialised work (molecular / micro-structural) which, even when you have the answer, will most likely only be comprehensible to a very small number of people bringing us back to the 'complex’ as the lowest practical species level unit with management / conservation benefits. 

My fear is that if we continue to alienate 'interested people' from learning coral ID because it is 'too hard’ then ultimately we might also provide management agencies and funders with an excuse to walk away from their resource management obligations because they don’t see practical application with tangible benefits. We need some kind of middle way that says “We know there is more detail in this bucket - but for practical reasons we are going to manage the bucket.” In the interim coral surveys at the genus level remain a useful, practical proxy for reef richness / health, and, if done systematically, can be used to detect change over time. You can train people to do them with modest resources and with a little extra effort we can even have people using the new names.  




Russell Kelley
russell at byoguides.com

Recipient 2017 Australian Coral Reef Society Medal for Science Advocacy

Program Director
Coral Identification Capacity Building Program

Manager: BYOGUIDES (Be Your Own Guide)
Author: Reef Finder <http://www.byoguides.com/reeffinder/> - the world’s first searchable underwater ID smart guide to reef life
Author: Indo Pacific Coral Finder <http://www.byoguides.com/coralfinder/> - the world’s first searchable ID smart guide to corals  
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Adjunct Senior Lecturer
College of Science and Engineering
James Cook University


> On 21 Jul 2018, at 7:16 am, Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com> wrote:
> I recently spotted this piece (open access):
> Most insect studies lack crucial species information
> https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-01541-0?
> utm_source=briefing-dy&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=20180205
> "Survey results suggest that a lot of entomology research could be
> impossible to replicate."
> "More than 98% of entomology papers contain so little species information
> on the insects being studied that they are essentially impossible to
> replicate, according to a survey of more than 550 articles published in
> 2016."
> Come to think of it, I don't remember many studies on corals in the
> Indo-Pacific that include this kind of info.  May not be necessary in the
> Caribbean, where many of the corals are easy to ID, but nearly all
> Indo-Pacific coral species have at least one other species (usually
> several) that are the very devil to tell apart.  Many studies in the I-P
> report results only at the genus level, which are vastly easier to ID, and
> thus more certain.  But I think this is a potential problem for work done
> with individual species in the Indo-Pacific.  What do you think?  We do
> need information at the species level, species within genera differ on all
> kinds of things, and can differ in dramatic ways.
> Cheers,  Doug
> -- 
> Douglas Fenner
> Contractor for NOAA NMFS Protected Species, and consultant
> PO Box 7390
> Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA
> New online open-access field guide to 300 coral species in Chagos, Indian
> Ocean
> http://chagosinformationportal.org/corals
> By getting serious about limiting global warming, the world could save
> itself more than $20 trillion.  (action would cost only a half trillion
> over 30 years, a third the cost of the Iraq war, benefits would be 40 times
> costs, that's a huge return on investment)  http://www.latimes.com/
> science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-global-warming-costs-20180523-story.html
> The cost of a warming climate  http://www.readcube.com/
> articles/10.1038/d41586-018-05198-7
> Climate costs  http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1038/d41586-018-05219-5
> Large potential reduction in economic damages under UN mitigation targets
> (and 30% loss of world economy if the climate is allowed to warm by 4oC)
> http://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1038/s41586-018-0071-9
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