1st Edition

Species, Science and Society The Role of Systematic Biology

By Quentin Wheeler Copyright 2024
    266 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    266 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book presents an engaging and accessible examination of the role of systematic biology in species exploration and biodiversity conservation.

    Our planet and systematic biology are at a crossroads. Millions of species face an imminent threat of extinction, and, with knowledge of only a fraction of earth’s species we are unprepared to respond. Species, Science and Society explains what is at stake if we continue to ignore the traditional mission of systematics. Rejecting claims that it is too late to document earth’s species, that molecular evidence is sufficient and that comparative morphology and the grand traditions of systematics are outdated, this book makes a compelling argument for a taxonomic renaissance. The book challenges readers to rethink assumptions about systematics. Shattering myths and misconceptions and clarifying the role of systematics in confronting mass extinction, it hopes to inspire a new generation of systematists. Readers are given a deeply personal view of the mission, motivations and rewards of systematic biology. Written in narrative style with passion, wit and optimism, it is the first book to question the growing dominance of molecular data, defend descriptive taxonomy and propose a mission to discover, describe and classify all species. Our evolutionary heritage, the fate of society and the future of the planet depend on what we do next.

    This book will be of great interest to academics, researchers and professionals working in systematics, taxonomy and biodiversity conservation, as well as students with a basic background in biology.

    Part I — Overview

    1. A Little about Molecules
    2. Scientific Malpractice
    3. The Science of Species
    4. The Art of Survival
    5. Cosmology of the Life Sciences
    6. Choices
    7. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Taxonomy but Were Afraid to Ask
    8. A Science Misunderstood Greatly
    9. The Species-Scape
    10. The Illusion of Knowledge
    11. Morphology without Apology
    12. The Inventory Imperative
    13. Other than That, Mrs. Lincoln, How Was the Play?
    14. Part II — A Crisis of Crises

    15. Extinction
    16. Systematics under Siege
    17. The Nature Gap
    18. Options for a Sustainable Future
    19. Part III — Solutions

    20. Taxonomic Renaissance
    21. A Planetary-Scale Species Inventory
    22. Hall of the Holocene
    23. Shameless Self-Promotion
    24. The Evolution of Evolutionary Economics


    Quentin Wheeler was President of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Vice President and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Arizona State University, Keeper and Head of Entomology in the Natural History Museum, London, Director of the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation, and Professor of Insect Systematics in Cornell University, U.S.A. He produces a weekly podcast and newsletter, The Species Hall of Fame, and his previous books include The Future of Phylogenetic Systematics (2016), The New Taxonomy (2008), Letters to Linnaeus (2009), What on Earth?—100 of Our Planet’s Most Amazing New Species (2013), Species Concepts and Phylogenetic Theory—A Debate (2000), Extinction and Phylogeny (1992) and Fungus-Insect Relationships (1984).

    "Wheeler’s compelling narrative reminds us of the unprecedented crisis facing biodiversity and forcefully argues that the way forward, for the sake of life on our planet and our humanity, must include and emphasize detailed morphological study of the species we name. This book is in part a provocative, fact-based opinion piece, a memoir of a lifelong passion for the wonders of the natural world, and a serious logical challenge to the hegemony of experimentalist and molecular genetics in biology. Wheeler’s take is more than just a screed on the current state of affairs, he lays out a vision of the solution. His solution requires a reconstituted science of taxonomy, a collaborative global workforce, and funds to make it happen."

    Kipling W. Will, University of California, Berkeley

    "The author has succeeded in writing a highly original book on species exploration: their discovery, explanation, and relationships, that is both rigorous and accessible to a wide audience. There is no book on the market that addresses the nature of the content of this book with the breadth, depth, and clarity that this book achieves."

    Antonio G. Valdecasas, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid

    "Usually thought of as the science dealing with describing and classifying all organisms, taxonomy is a rich and varied discipline. Quentin Wheeler’s book sets out to make a compelling case for taxonomy as a significant, fundamental, if under-appreciated, discipline. Rather than detail all the intricacies of its intellectual complexity, his book is a straightforward, no nonsense pragmatic account – one that should be, must be – read. But not just by life scientists and environmental policy makers, but by the general public as well – if for no other reason than to appreciate just how the interrelatedness of life on our earth is understood."

    David M. Williams, The Natural History Museum, London

    "Species, Science and Society is a constructive defense and promotion of Systematics in the 21st century... A timely book to remind us that good research in Systematics must integrate identification, description and classification in numerous and complementary comparative approaches... A clear statement that the results of Systematics are essential for a better understanding of Biodiversity, a fundamental societal challenge in facing global changes."

    Thierry Bourgoin, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

    "This excellent book is lighting a path for those who wish to respond to the biodiversity crisis with expanded taxonomic knowledge rather than retracted expectations. It makes a persuasive argument for a mainly scientific solution to the biodiversity crisis based on the science of Systematics to replace the poverty of contemporary frameworks that treat the natural world as ecosystem services, natural capitol and nature-based solutions which, based on current data, have failed to halt or address the decline of biodiversity in any significant way. At its heart this book extols the idea that we need to live with, understand and document the natural world rather than solely viewing it as an object solely for exploitation."

    Robert Scotland, Oxford University

    "A plea for a renaissance of taxonomy in its full form by one of the greatest living advocates of the field.  Wheeler speaks to the next generation of researchers in a personal and often humorous narrative, warning that the foundation of biodiversity studies is rapidly crumbling."

    Joseph V. McHugh, University of Georgia