|Credit: Charley Murphy"Charlie Murphy’s glass sculptures |
delicate ‘stamen’ series celebrates
the extraordinarily expressive
features of plant life"
|Photo by Sanguin-lupus|
|photo: Mine (2013)|
You should see my Prickly Pear Cactus which I took from the chaparral plant community of Tenerife in the Canary Islands for which I've previously written about here on these blogs before. The beavertail cutting I took was placed in a pot last spring. Through this past summer 2012, it grew another beavertail on top of that older one. Of course I left it outside & the Spanish Slugs tore holes in that new growth, but it had healed and survived. I finally brought it indoors and placed it on our dining room in late October when the first frosts were present outside. Two weeks later it started to put on newer growth even though technically it wasn't even close to Springtime or in it's home range. Though I have two huge picture windows next to the dining room table, it's is mostly darkness here outside in Swedish winter. After the new year, we start to get 10 minutes of sun shining on that Cactus, then 15, 20 and so on over the next weeks. But the growth is not beavertail-like, it's more like one of those holiday Christmas Cactus sold at stores. Now, could I technically call this seemingly evolving Cactus a brand new species ? Of course not, it's still the same cactus responding to an odd environmental circumstance. Trust me I know. And yet, for years many an ambitious researcher has employed "taxonomic exuberance" by observing just this same thing with other organisms. Admittedly, this phenomena of "phenotypic plasticity" makes it a challenge in data collection for many field researchers, but a good plant specialist will understand the difference.
|So simple, even a Child gets this!|
"Biologists in the early 1900s had a difficult time determining the number of species and sub-species of Grizzly Bears. Resulting 'taxonomic exuberance' produced over a hundred named taxa. Some confusion remains today regarding common names. Grizzly, Brown and Kodiak bears are all the same species, although there are noticeable size differences associated with location, habitat and diet of different populations. Biologists now recognize five distinct genetic groups (clades) of Grizzly Bears throughout the world, but again, only one species."
|image: Resilient Earth|
Another very interesting and actually surprising usage of this terminology called "taxonomic exuberance" came from a source I never ever expected. On February 4th, 2013, Current Biology released a paper written by Tim White of UC Berkeley who works in the department of Human Evolution Research Center. This part of science has never been my favourite for no other reason than the fables, myths and stories created by the embellishments and exaggerations of the fossil findings and Anthropologist. Tim White agrees. Here is a link to this paper which was originally behind a pay-wall and now published on a PDF. Very interesting read and I'll post some pertinent quotes from this paper below this link:
Veteran Researcher, Tim White, reveals through a kind of critical sarcasm the problems within his specific scientific field which he considers unregulated, undisciplined and where most of his fellow Paleoanthropologists are bent on self-promotion, where making things up as they go along are common place. In so many fields of scientific discipline, there is a rush to fame, glitter or glory and that has the tendency to colour research results. Interesting paper and very bold in it's criticism for which many in this field can find themselves losing a job or black balled in other ways in exposing errors or flaws in such an often ideologically driven subject as Tim White did.
What Tim White is referring to are the religious iconography still found in many of the scientific textbooks which are still in use today. And he condemns this use of such depictions which are continually used in those school boy biology textbooks which have yet to be corrected, no doubt for ideological reasons. There's no denying it, we've all seen it and it's provided great creativity fodder for Hollywood's Sci-Fi motion pictures. Unfortunately the depiction's end result is always the same. A big studly white man leads the pack. Somewhere between the Chimp and that white man, there are any number of countless mythical [half Ape - half Human] beast species and this is what Tim White was condemning. Categorizing today's human races as different species by some over exuberant researchers is yet another nail in the coffin of humankind ever coming together in unity. For you who may disagree with me, put yourself in the position of someone of African heritage on the outside looking in and you'll understand what I mean."The unilineal depiction of human evolution popularized by the familiar iconography of an evolutionary ‘march to modern man’ has been proven wrong for more than 60 years. However, the cartoon continues to provide a popular straw man for scientists, writers and editors alike."
"Do most of these species labels reﬂect real, biologically distinct lineages? Or have the alleged species proliferated merely as a result of 'taxonomic exuberance' misapplied to within-species variation (idiosyncratic, geographic, sexual, and/or ontogenetic)? The sequence of prominent paleoanthropological publications across the last decades reveals a pattern of diversity promotion."Paleoanthropology’s ecosystem of publishing, access, fundraising, career advancement, media promotion and celebrity seems squarely aligned against the ﬁeld’s ability to self regulate, a condition exacerbated by the limited fossil resources available. There is ample and obvious motivation for authors to generate ‘new’ species names in this environment. Readers should, therefore, beware of attendant species diversity claims. Illegitimate names have become part and parcel of the symbiosis itself.
Furthermore, ‘chronospecies’ are merely artiﬁcial segments of evolving species lineages, rather than truly separate species. Such assertions of biological species diversity via taxonomic hyperbole are questionable representations of the real paleobiology of our ancestors and their few close, now extinct biological relatives."
|Image - Rob Horne - creekbed.org|
So, "taxonomic exuberance", "phenotypic plasticity", "species" ? These words/terms are quite often muddled and murky depending on the circumstance used, person using them and the ideological concerns motivating such usage. I've truly never found a topic more fuzzied than this one often gets into. Sometimes by accident and other times more deliberate depending on the researcher's philosophical religious priory. I can understand natural excitement of finding something not seen before, as I also have to admit, that when I've been out in the field looking for specific plants, that just perhaps I would stumble upon some as yet unknown species or at least variation of plant I'm searching for. So much so because I quite often will be deliberately looking for something in a location geographically which I already know will have or hold specific traits engineered into it's genetic code for survival within this specific area for which may have practical value in the urban landscape. That's why when collecting seed for native plant nurseries, I was ever so careful to list details on where the seed source was located. It's this "phenotypic plasticity" which many foresters are looking for in seed source collection to replant within a specific region destroyed by fire and in need of replanting. I could care less about self-promotion or public recognition for anything I may stumble upon. My personal view is, if I have something that I've found to be important, I share it with others, then that knowledge becomes their property to share as well. But our world is defined by promoting self and this hinders any type of unity which in turn stifles any goal of true peace and security. Many people today are indoctrinated into trusting anything and everything that spews from a Scientists mouth or dripping ink of his/her pen. We often forget they are also human beings just like us with the same faults and flaws common to imperfect human beings. Look at the mess our natural world is in and it's this world's failed leadership or authority which got us here. Evolutionary Biologist, Austin L. Hughes from the University of South Carolina wrote a great piece in the online journal, "The New Atlantis" called The Folly of Scientism . It's a great well written article, not slamming science, but rather the modern day practice of blindly giving it's researchers a passing grade even when they fail horribly. He also wrote a couple of years ago in 2011, something incredible about this very same subject I'm writing about with "phenotypic plasticity" which was published in PNAS and called The origin of adaptive phenotypes . Take a long look at some important quotes of Austin Hughes.
“Thousands of papers are published every year claiming evidence of adaptive evolution on the basis of computational analyses alone, with no evidence whatsoever regarding the phenotypic effects of allegedly adaptive mutations.”
“Contrary to a widespread impression, natural selection does not leave any unambiguous “signature” on the genome, certainly not one that is still detectable after tens or hundreds of millions of years. To biologists schooled in Neo-Darwinian thought processes, it is virtually axiomatic that any adaptive change must have been fixed as a result of natural selection. But it is important to remember that reality can be more complicated than simplistic textbook scenarios.”
“In recent years the literature of evolutionary biology has been glutted with extravagant claims of positive selection on the basis of computational analyses alone, including both codon-based methods and other questionable methods such as the McDonald-Kreitman test. This vast outpouring of pseudo-Darwinian hype has been genuinely harmful to the credibility of evolutionary biology as a science.”
Austin's observations, comments, and reflections almost mirror what the Berkeley Paleoanthropologist Tim White said in his article about his colleagues rush to label supposedly new fossil finds as a new found species. Nature behaves far differently in the field than what many of the outdated textbooks in a university lab say. Not everything out there can be attributed to Darwinian mechanisms as Austin Hughes mentions. An organism's encoded information & sophisticated communication systems within it's DNA and the nano-machinery they control & operate along with a plethora of Switches and Sensors in what we know as epigenetics can accomplish whatever it takes for adaptability within reasonable environmental changes. [Pay very close attention to this new field of Epigenetics, it too is going to outrage the present Scientific Orthodoxy, I kid you not] Otherwise if organisms cannot adapt, then they completely fail. And that right now is what scares me. Lately science has come out with a series studies which are showing that our natural world may not be capable of repairing itself and certainly has reached the limits of it's adaptability despite the painting of rosy pictures by some researchers on climate change adaptability in hopes in allaying people's fears and panic. In other words, lulling them to sleep to prevent panic. Well, they should be panicked. Some of the content and subject matter of the papers almost make me sick because I don't really see any so-called eco-green innovations way out of any of this mess. Things I've seen for decades working in nature are no longer doing so in many areas I am familiar with. Things I've seen over a decade ago and warned about to friends are just now being revealed as truth in research papers. Most of my personal experiences were local to the Anza, California area, but now even more widespread, even globally.
What people should do is think before you blindly except or put faith in something stated from a self-appointed Authority. I'm not talking about some Hollywood cliche from X-Files like "Trust no one agent Mulder". There's enough of those conspiracies theories running rampant around the globe as it is. But you should find out and test out a statement when it's authors promote it as an irrefutable fact. It may turn out to be actually Factoidal as opposed to an actual FACT. Get yourself outdoors into the field, learn how nature really works. Drag your kids along too, they desperately need it if you're going to cure them of their "Nature Deficit Disorder". Do it for their own good. It's an education that becomes etched and burned into memories and not easily lost or forgotten. Now is it "taxonomic exuberance" or "phenotypic plasticity" ? Teach them the real difference between something being a different species or a variety of the same species. Armed with this new knowledge, you decide! There is a great old Proverb which even those claiming to be religious among mankind don't even take to heart.
"Only a simpleton believes everything he’s told! A prudent man understands the need for proof."I hope you at least found this subject very interesting as I did and take it to heart the real reasons for the differences in many things in the normally orderly well arranged natural world around us. Please also understand that this world and it's long historical well ordered complexity are breaking down and disintegrating as a result of human ignorance. Generally by the very leadership who insist they are the leading intellectuals in the field. Take this post for how it was originally purposed, to instill deep appreciation for Nature. There is far more to this story than the few tidbits I've given here. There is growing science of Epigenetics which is revealing actual sophisticated complex mechanisms within the genetic code called Epigenetics which allow for multiple change and variation, but in a controlled manner. This is specific science discipline with the study of Genetics is proving to be a refreshing departure from an old outdated Victorian Era belief in random mutations (copying errors) which are firther chosen by a blind unguided mystic force no one can accurately explain other than a default term called, "Natural Selection." I'll continue to provide updates down here as time progresses. Stay Tuned.
Update - April 19, 2016Just a post on the subject of Random Mutations so happily wedded to it's buddy Natural Selection in mutating life by accident. The problem with such dogma is that it has held actual viable scientific understanding of our natural world and therefore our working with it sustainably with regards to technological innovation.
Update - April 26, 2016This is a post continuing down the line of illustrating hidden mechanisms of changes gene expession not by dumb luck or guided forces, but of sophisticated epigenetic mechanisms influenced by varying changes from outside Environmental Cues which trigger 'on' or 'off' various 'switches' (think punctuation within a paragraph) within a gene which works within the context of other genes which in turn cause a different reading of the same informational content of an organism's DNA. This is what gives our natural world such beauty in variety and interest.
Update - September 7, 2016This is a beautiful article written about the incredible epigenetic mechanisms which allow for great variety in adaptation and variation within the same kind of organism. These are things we can actualy grab onto and hold, taste, smell and feel. As opposed to the mystic forces of random mutatio & natural selection which cannot accurate account for anything but the ignorance of past intellectuals from the Victorian Era. Here is one beautiful quote from the author:
“Many of the key players orchestrating DNA methylation had previously been characterized, but what we didn’t fully realize before this study is that they all work together in an elegant way,” said Scott Rothbart, Ph.D.,This is a far cry from the promotion of "evolution is messy" dogma. Seriously, without going further here with this, google "evolution is messy" for yourself. Enjoy the article.