EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(W023)

Shadows and lights on global biodiversity: taxonomy's revival (EN)

Location V306
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Elsa Faugere (INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research)) email
David Dumoulin Kervran (Sorbonne Nouvelle University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

The global scientific race to product new knowledge, technologies and technics on biodiversity results in the production of new uncertainties. Starting with different cases studies, this session will explore this quest of an exhaustive inventory of the world biodiversity.

Long Abstract

Since 30 years, the technics and technologies used to collect and explore biodiversity have considerably improved. They have showed that the magnitude of species biodiversity was much higher than what was suspected before. The biologists have then discovered how much they were ignorant of this magnitude : 10 or 100 millions of species? To face such an uncertainty and to deal with, the international scientific community has launched global initiatives (Global Taxonomic Initiative, Global Biodiversity Information Facility, etc.) which allow the scientist to share more easily their database and their knowledge on biodiversity. The management of the uncertainty concerning the biodiversity is then done by using informatics and Internet in order to create new virtual and global networks of taxonomists all around the world. It is also done by using new molecular technologies to identify species (DNA barcoding) which are considered to be much faster than morphological identification. And finally, this management of uncertainty upon the magnitude of biodiversity is done by a revival of naturalists' inventories. Some of them are done at a scale never reached in the past : they are considered as the biggest naturalist expedition of all time.

Starting from ethnographic descriptions, this session will explore the links between scientific knowledge/technologies, uncertainties and ignorance in the field of biodiversity.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Taxonomies, ontologies and visualizations

Author: Chunglin Kwa (University of Amsterdam)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

In any taxonomy, categories are formed on the basis of a weighing of their relative importance. Deductive approach invite to ontologies, inductive approaches make situational choices, often through visualizations. This paper will study the social and natural construction of both ontologies and visualizations of biodiversity.

Long Abstract

The shift to taxonomy in the field of biodiversity necessitates to reflect on the nature of taxonomical thinking. In any taxonomy, similarities and differences (of traits, etc.) are catalogued and categories formed on the basis of a weighing of their relative importance. Through the history of taxonomy from Cesalpino in the 16th Century to the present, two approaches have been in uneasy tension: the deductive approach and inductive approaches. The former invite to so-called ontologies. The latter make situational choices: the subject at hand will make it evident which traits are more important than others. Visual means such as maps contribute to make choices in the design of taxonomies. This paper will study the social and natural construction of both ontologies and visualizations of biodiversity.

How taxonomy became experimental: redefining objectivity between laboratory and museum

Author: Bruno J. Strasser (University of Geneva; Yale University)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the introduction of experimental methods in taxonomy transformed some of the key epistemic values of naturalist practice, such as the nature of objectivity and its role in the production of knowledge.

Long Abstract

The emergence of DNA barcoding represents only the most recent episode in a century-long transformation of taxonomy towards the use of experimental methods. This paper explores how the use of experimental methods in taxonomy, throughout the twentieth century, gave rise to deep tensions between the epistemic values of experimentalism and those of natural history. Ideas about the nature of objectivity and its role in science were particularly contested. Participants in these debates, such as E. Mayr, G.G. Simpson, A. Bodyen, or A. Sibley contributed to redefining the proper way to practice taxonomy. In particular, the adoption of experimental methods by taxonomists led to a progressive decline of subjectivist justifications of taxonomy. This paper also argues that the growing interest of naturalists in collecting experimental data from a large number of species formed the basis for an equally important transformation in the biomedical sciences. After focussing on a few model organisms, since the late 19th century, biomedical researchers now rely on a great diversity of biological materials provided by naturalists. In conclusion, this paper argues that experimentalism and natural history have converged in the late twentieth century forming a new hybrid science.

Does the "Barcoding of Life" toolbox actually identify species?

Author: Anouk Barberousse (Université Paris-Sorbonne)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

While biologists disagree on the definition of the species concept, the DNA barcoding technique claims to allow for quickly identifying species in the wild. How reliable is this new technique?

Long Abstract

The "Barcoding of Life" technique is a new way to "identify species with DNA barcoding", as its promoters claim. It is based on the quick sequencing of a short gene sequence from a standard part of the genome, the same for all living beings. The newly analyzed sequences are collected in a world-wild database and compared with already identified specimens' sequences in order to assess to which species the recently discovered organisms belong. While still under construction, this technique is claimed to provide the remedy to the problems of species identification in the wild. Currently, biologists identify species by mostly relying on morphological criteria, which take long years to master. The Barcoding of Life technique is easy to learn and to apply, and is supposed to be less error-prone that the taxonomists' practices.

The association of a species with a particular, small DNA sequence however raises several questions, bearing on the reliability of the method. It reminds of genetic definitions of the species concept, which are not the most popular ones nowadays. The paper is devoted to the relationships between this operational way of identifying species and the current debate on the definition of the species concept. While biologists still disagree on what species are, is it reasonable to develop such a powerful way to attribute wild specimens a species name? How do the uncertainties of theory interact with the swiftness and efficiency of the barcoding technique?

The Mercantour biodiversity inventory, at the interface of systematics, ecology and nature management

Authors: Isabelle Arpin (Irstea)  email
Celine Granjou (University of Grenoble-Alps (IRSTEA))  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

We present the goals and specificities of the biodiversity inventory carried out in the Mercantour national park (France) since 2005. We show that it developed at the interface of systematics, ecology and nature management, highlighting how they can enrich, as well as compete with, one another.

Long Abstract

Our intervention will deal with the biodiversity inventory carried out in the Mercantour national park (France) since 2005. Based on a field survey, it will present the goals and implementation modalities of this inventory and will compare it to other similar endeavours undertaken elsewhere in the world, so as identify its specificities. We shall see that the Mercantour biodiversity inventory was constituted jointly by the National Museum of Natural History and the Mercantour national park and that the latter, initially a mere terrain for the inventory, has gradually become an essential actor. This appears as an important difference with many one-shot expeditions carried out in biodiversity "hot spots".

We shall show that this specificity has had consequences on the directions of the inventory. Whereas systematicians usually organize biodiversity inventories as they wish, at least to a certain extent, here they had to take into account the will of the park to design and conduct the inventory so as to obtain useful results for nature management as well as the presence, within the staff and scientific council of the park, of people with a solid background in ecology, who had different views of how a biodiversity inventory should be carried out and of its goals. This inventory therefore developed at the interface of systematics, ecology and nature management, highlighting how they can enrich, as well as compete with, one another.

From collecting to protecting birds: paradigmatic shift in birdwatchers’ attitude to nature

Author: Dan Podjed (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU))  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

The paper presents ethnographic research of birdwatchers that are known for their tendency to “collect” bird-sights, and structure and order them into neatly organized categories – taxonomic groups. It is also explained how and why in the 1990s an unusual shift occurred from structuration of nature to its protection and understanding of its complexity.

Long Abstract

Birdwatchers are known for their intrinsic tendency to “collect” bird-sights, and order them into neatly organized categories – taxonomic groups. But is it really like that? Author of the paper, who carried out his ethnographic research in the Slovenian birdwatching association, realized that in the 1990s there happened a shift from structuration of nature to its protection and understanding of its complexity. This shift was not gradual; it was rather a gestalt moment, when members of the association started to perceive birds and nature from a different angle – from a holistic or ecological point of view, from which “we are a part of nature, and we are therefore responsible for it” as it was explained by a birdwatcher.

Such a shift, which was demarcated by leaving of the association’s founding “father”, who was the main force behind initial “catalogization” of Slovenian birds in 1970s and 1980s, is connected to transition from structuralism to post-structuralism as a world view. Basic assumptions of structuralism are namely order, hierarchy, structure and organization, while post-structuralism is based on complexity, fluidity, holism and networks. These assumptions are incommensurable and cannot coexist in one organization. Therefore the radical transformation on micro-level (“revolution” as some informants referred to it) occurred, and made birdwatchers perceive the natural world in a different way. They still watch birds, but they do not see them as distant objects, which have to be “collected” and organized. They see and understand them as a part of a complex whole, which includes other animals, plants and also humans – including observers themselves.

Taxonomy's politicisation through biodiversity regime

Authors: David Dumoulin Kervran (Sorbonne Nouvelle University)  email
Guillaume Ollivier (INRA)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

The paper presented will try to qualify how the new "biodiversity regime" has been since twenty years a fundamental booster of taxonomy. The study will be carried out at two levels : the new global arena, and the international program of global inventory « La planète revisistée » (leaded by MHN).

Long Abstract

How the new "biodiversity regime" has been a fundamental booster for the revival of taxonomy? We study this « politicisation procès » trying to identify the logics of new framings of the discipline through "biodiversity", the main international actors who are at the frontline, the main political arenas who have emerged, and the ways this process affect scientist's practices.

The argumentation will be based on the observation of two different levels:on one hand the new global intiatives (like GTI, GBIF, EDIT, until IPBES), and on the other hand the international program of global inventory « La planète revisistée » (leaded by MHN) we had the opportunity to investigate within a collective project.

Working in virtual space: how to study biodiversity research on the Web

Authors: Daphne Duin (VU-University Amsterdam)  email
Peter van den Besselaar  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

We study the effects of moving biodiversity research to the Web. We used the rich body of theories on organizational dimensions of knowledge creation, which suggests the online environment creates enabling conditions for knowledge production and innovation. Moreover, we argue that Social Network Analysis offer great means to study online and offline work environments of researchers. We will demonstrate our argument with help of a case study on one specific web-based platform in the field called Scratchpads.

Long Abstract

In the field of taxonomy (hereafter biodiversity research) numerous Web based tools are available. The tools facilitate knowledge creation within the global expert community of biodiversity researchers and bioinformaticians. With the tools users can create content, share data and have access to knowledge that was once only available to individual researchers, whether in paper achieves, on stand-alone computers or in difficult to access data systems of their institutions. Up to now more than 3000 users registered for the web-based platform called Scratchpads and their number is steadily growing. Hence, biodiversity research is moving its work space to the Web. In the context of this trend we are interested to know what the effects are in terms of access to social capital for science. Does web-based science provide access to different assets (e.g. skills and knowledge) than offline research settings? We applied theories on Communities of Practice and Social Network Analysis as a method to online research communities using Scratchpads as a case. Furthermore, benefits and cautionary notes of using Web data for social research will be discussed.

The role of philanthropic organizations and medias in the revival of taxonomy

Author: Elsa Faugere (INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research))  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

In this paper we will explore how and why the alliances between taxonomists organizing great naturalists' expeditions, philanthropic organizations - corporate and families' foundations - funding them, and Medias have appeared in the 2000's. What are the effects on the modernization of taxonomy?

Long Abstract

In recent years, taxonomy, an old and not very attractive sub-discipline of biology, has faced important changes. One of them is the implication of private actors in the funding of naturalists expeditions which aim is to inventory biodiversity in the hotpots of the Southern Countries. These private actors are philanthropic organizations such as corporates or families' foundations. In the 2000's, some French biologists, working at the National Museum of Natural History of Paris and at the ONG Pro-Natura International, have succeeded in finding important grants from foundations - such as Total Foundation, Niarchos Foundation, Prince Albert II Foundation of Monaco, and others - which have allowed them to organize the greatest naturalists' expeditions of all-time, according to the medias.

In this paper we will explore how and why such alliances between professional taxonomists, philanthropic organizations and Medias have appeared in the 2000's, what are the effects on the modernization of taxonomy and what is the anthropological meaning?

The general disquiet on taxonomy's health: a result of the biodiversity crisis?

Author: Elise Tancoigne (University of Geneva)  email
Mail All Authors

Short Abstract

A widespread idea postulates that taxonomy is disappearing. However, a scientometric study performed on the most comprehensive zoological database refutes it. Two uncertainties facing taxonomy may explain this idea: we neither know how to speed up taxonomy, nor what biodiversity remains to be discovered.

Long Abstract

Articles sounding the alarm on the extinction of taxonomy are numerous today. They often use disconcerting titles although they hardly rely on accurate data. Accurate data on this subject is derived from two main sources: surveys and bibliometric analyzes. They are mostly performed at a local scale: country, taxa. A bibliographical database indexing 90% of zoological publications, with coverage back to 1864, exists: the Zoological Record. A scientometric work was performed at a global scale on this database to assess this decline. Results do not support the idea of a widespread, general decline of taxonomy in the world. Thus, the disquiet on taxonomy's health must originate elsewhere. First, the field encountered recent changes: much attention is now paid to biodiversity databases and the spreading of new approaches such as DNA barcoding and integrative taxonomy. Second, it is believed that a deep discrepancy exists between what is known of biodiversity and what remains to be done (taxonomic gap). Thus, two uncertainties may currently explain the disquiet on taxonomy's health: uncertainties about what remains to be discovered before biodiversity vanishes and uncertainties about what should be done to speed up biodiversity inventories.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.