In reading a recent issue of Aroideana (not yet available to non-members of IAS), I find, as is so often the case with that publication, several articles by Tom Croat describing new species. What is conspicuously absent from these articles is phylogenetic trees or any discussion of genetic analysis. What is conspicuously present is mention of habitats that have not yet been adequately explored, and species descriptions focused on the morphological differences between the specimens from these newly visited localities and known species from other localities.
We often see articles advocating for conservation which say that most of the world’s biodiversity is in danger of being lost before it can be documented. In one of the aforementioned articles by Croat, I read, “Anthurium is the largest genus in Araceae, with 1144 published species, and is one of the world’s largest plant genera with an estimated potential of 3000 species.” So that means that just over one-third of this genus has been documented. The unknown species are probably in localities that have not yet been properly explored, and will be brought to light by going to these places and finding them, not by redrawing the phylogenetic trees of known taxa.
Meanwhile, what are we doing? Arguing about whether the Gulf fritillary is Agraulis or Dione. We already know a lot about this butterfly and its conservation needs; will any of that change according which genus we decide to put it in? I am much more concerned about that unknown butterfly living in a mountain range that is about to be deforested before its biodiversity has been explored.
Cladistic analysis is taxonomists’ shiny new toy, but when it comes to where to allocate research dollars, I don’t know that it should be as big a priority as it has been made.