[Coral-List] Do coral studies lack crucial species information??
douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Mon Jul 30 00:02:30 EDT 2018
I thought the point of the insect article was that people publishing
studies of individual species, such as physiology or whatever, commonly
said they did their study on "Species X" and left it with that. No
information to back up their identification, and no way for a reader to be
able to know the ID was correct or to check the ID, since no voucher
specimens were stored to document what was studied. We could take their
word for it on faith, but do we really want to base what we call "science"
on faith?? Scientific studies on individual species is a different
situation/question from people getting into the water and recording units
in the water, whether genus or species. If a study involves fieldwork in
which a large number of colonies and species are studied, generally they
can't all be collected and often few or none of those that could be
collected are collected, for logistical reasons.
A separate, different point is that the taxonomy of corals, that is the
applying of genus and species names to corals, is almost entirely done with
skeletons, a name is defined by skeleton structures. One genus, Euphyllia,
has some species distinctions that are partly based on tentacles. When we
get into the water and identify corals, whether to genus or to species, we
are only able to use those aspects of the skeleton which can be seen
through the tissues, such as the colony shape and the larger shapes of
things like corallites, and without a microscope. Generally, details of
septa are not visible under water, though there are some exceptions such as
in Fungia, and smaller structures like spines usually can't be seen. Our
identifications in the water are in some sense hypotheses which can be
tested with examination of skeletons. Even the identification of a
skeleton can be considered a hypothesis. Part of the problem with genera
is that there are loads of differences between species within genera.
Another is that the most fundamental level in taxonomy is the species.
That is why, for instance, the USA has an "Endangered Species Act" but not
an "Endangered Genus Act." Indeed, species are not easy to ID, at least in
We are all definitely restrained by what is possible, and I think
ecologists will always need to identify species in the field. It is much
easier with fish and with Caribbean corals than Indo-Pacific corals. I,
too, feel that a logical first step is to learn some genera, and then
follow with learning species. Genera are much easier than species, and
there are many fewer of them, so they make a great starting point, I
But what my post was about, was whether people doing research on
specific corals on Indo-Pacific coral reefs (which includes the Indian
Ocean, Red Sea and Arabian/Persian Gulf in addition to the Pacific), need
to save voucher specimens and give some indication of how species were
identified, and by whom. Or else, like insect researchers, our research
studies may be impossible to replicate, because there is no sure way to
know what species were studied.
For some time, I have had a feeling, people have not valued having
someone with expertise identify their corals for them. In the Caribbean
and Brazil, there is little need. But in the Indo-Pacific it is not a
trivial matter. No one would think of trying to survey reef fish without
identifying the individual species, you need species by length and by
numbers to calculate biomass. We're lucky with corals that we can measure
coral cover without knowing what the species are, but that leaves much
important information uncollected. Genera are a good start, but are not
enough. The wrasse family includes the giant Humphead wrasse up to 7 feet
long, plus many very small wrasse species. Surgeonfish include species
with very different diets and lifestyles. And so on. Same with corals
(American Samoa has a massive Porites colony that is 41 meters in diameter,
but also Stylaraea that looks almost identical to Porites in the field,
which is almost always well under 1 cm diameter, and they surely have very
different biology and ecology).
Identification of Indo-Pacific corals always has some level of
uncertainty with it. Uncertainty is lowest when done with skeletons
usually (except small fragments or badly damaged specimens), higher with
photos but that depends on the quality of photos, and probably highest when
done in the water without photos or skeletons collected. If neither photos
or skeletons are collected, there is no way to check whether someone's ID
is correct. The more experience and expertise the person has, the less
uncertainty, and the less experience and expertise the more uncertainty.
Checking type specimens and/or original descriptions increases certainty.
But some type specimens are very poor, the earliest species named had no
type specimens, no photos (photography wasn't invented) or even drawings.
Any language can be used in original descriptions, the earliest were in
Latin, I've seen an original description that consisted of two sentences in
Latin. It could all hang on the meaning of one word in Latin. In many
original descriptions, the information you may need isn't in the
description, and the type specimen is then the only possible thing you can
use. It can be a nightmare (but certainly isn't always, much of the time
it is quite clear, especially with a good type specimen). For more of this
story, take a peek at http://www.coralsoftheworld.org/page/
overview-of-coral-taxonomy/ Veron points out that species themselves
vary greatly in the level of uncertainty, which he explains in this essay.
He also points out that genera and families also have their own problems.
For better or for worse, we're stuck with the Linnean species
naming system, because while some improvements have been made, no one has
come up with a better system. To my knowledge, species cannot be described
and thus defined, on the basis of DNA only. DNA sequence results can
certainly be included in the description, but "description", at least in
animals (but likely not in bacteria or viruses) has to include morphology.
The names, fundamentally, correspond to morphology descriptions and type
specimens. Please anyone correct me if I'm wrong.
All this is not meant to deter people from starting a learning
journey with genera, that's the place to start and hopefully progress is
rapid and gratifying. Yes, there is a place for surveying genera, that's
better than not surveying genera at all. Plus it makes no sense for
everyone who surveys to dedicate their entire life to trying to learn every
coral species in the Indo-Pacific. Some specialization is surely more
efficient, such as assembling teams with different specialties or
On Mon, Jul 23, 2018 at 2:18 PM, russell @ BYOGUIDES <russell at byoguides.com>
> 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
> donewith individual species in the Indo-Pacific. What do you think? We
> doneed information at the species level, species within genera differ on
> allkinds 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 <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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> On 21 Jul 2018, at 7:16 am, Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com>
> I recently spotted this piece (open access):
> Most insect studies lack crucial species information
> "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
> 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
> 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/
> The cost of a warming climate http://www.readcube.com/
> 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)
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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
How Did the Climate Apocalypse Become Old News?
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)
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)
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