Monday, 8 October 2012

PhD week 31: Sorting

A bench of Irenimus. A portion of the specimens available to me.

One of the tricky parts of taxonomic research is to go from a mass of unsorted specimens to a nicely curated collection of putative species. When confronted by a collection of well over 1000 specimens, this task can be somewhat intimidating.

André Larochelle and Marie-Claude Larivière in their Fauna of New Zealand volume to the ground beetle tribe Harpalini present a helpful outline of the process they took in revising the group. In summary, it goes as follows:

  1. Borrow as many specimens as possible.
  2. Label the borrowed specimens with their collection of origin.
  3. Roughly group similar-looking specimens.
  4. Within these groups, subdivide further by geography
  5. Dissect a number of specimens from each of these geographic/morphological groups.
  6. Identify putative species and make drawings of dissection results.
  7. Make correlations between the results of the dissections and the external morphology.
  8. Photograph specimens.
  9. Describe the taxa
  10. Compare putative species with the type specimens of previously described species.
  11. Construct identification key
This list gives a handy guide to the way ahead. When broken down into jobs described above, the effort becomes somewhat less herculean.

Larochelle A, Larivière M-C. 2005. Harpalini (Insecta: Coleoptera: Carabidae: Harpalinae). Fauna of New Zealand 53: 1–160

   Polkinghorne J. 1996. Beyond Science. The Wider Human Context.Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
   Borg MJ. 2001. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. HarperOne, New York.
   McCulloch D. 2010. A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years London: Penguin
   Teilhard de Chardin P. 1955. The Phenomenon of Man London: Fountain
   Psalms 123–127

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