Linnaeus’ Legacy # 3

Welcome to the third edition of Linnaeus’ Legacy, a monthly carnival celebrating the diversity of life on this planet, and the methods we use to understand it. The home page for this carnival is here, and the last edition (#2) is posted here. The next edition will be held at The Other 95%.

Systematics and Evolution

The Specialness Of Species at Podblack Blog.

Creativity in biological nomenclature was something I learned about in the mid-90s, when I heard of a news report on a beetle named after Darth Vader. A genuine article, a newly-discovered beetle; indeed the product of research and study… so-called for his shiny head with a slit across the front, like the Sith Lord’s helmet – Agathidium vaderi.

Lighting the Phylogenetic Tree by Tangled Up in Blue Guy

Bioluminescence lights the way for a whole host of living beings to either find their way in the dark, attract prey or just to provide pretty pictures (considering the design hypothesis to have some scientific value).

The Fungi

Reference Review: The Trials of Anamorphic Taxa is a review of Skovgaard, K., S. Rosendahl, K. O’Donnell & H. I. Nirenberg. 2003. Fusarium commune is a new species identified by morphological and molecular phylogenetic data. Mycologia 95(4): 630-636, a peer-reviewed paper, covered by Christopher Taylor or a Catalogue of Organisms.

Fusarium is a genus of filamentous soil fungi … that is best known as a cause of a selection of nasty diseases of crop plants. It is an anamorphic genus – that is, it includes taxa that reproduce asexually. Fungal taxonomy maintains a complicated system of classifying asexual anamorphs separately from sexual teleomorphs…


Book Note: Rare Birds Yearbook 2008 by John at A DC Birding Blog

Rare Birds Yearbook 2008, edited by Erik Hirschfeld … is the first edition of what is intended as an annual guide to the most endangered birds in the world. Currently BirdLife designates 189 species as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Future editions will include more or (hopefully) fewer species as their status changes.

i-e2200d99f67e5d0b1674f5112fcfcf57-10000_Birds.jpgAmerican Buff-bellied Pipit – identification criteria at 10,000 birds (This post and photos by Charlie Moores) includes not only useful information but also outstanding photographs.

…The American form of Buff-bellied Pipit rubescens breeds across much of northern and western Canada and winters from the southern USA and Central America. Typically found in the winter on open ground – eg fields and beaches – they are active feeders, walking purposefully or chasing after insects…


Whale Evolution

Carl Zimmer of The Loom covers recent work on Whale Evolution in two closely related posts. The first post is his report of peer reviewed research, and the second his reply to further questions raised by commenters on his blog.

Whales: From So Humble A Beginning…

When I first met Hans Thewissen, he spending an afternoon standing on a table, pointing a camera at a fossil between his feet. He asked me to hold a clip light to get rid of some shadows. I felt like I was at a paleontological fashion shoot….Thewissen was taking pictures of bones from a whale that walked. As I later wrote in my book At the Water’s Edge, Thewissen has discovered some crucial clues to the transitions that the ancestors of whales made from land to sea.

Return to the Dawn of Whales: Cousins Versus Grandparents

…It is sometimes possible to find the fossil of one extinct species that evolved into another extinct species. But if scientists only studied evolution that way, they’d be ignoring a wealth of other clues to how evolution unfolded….

New Views of Mammals: The Giraffe

A recent paper on the diversity of giraffes has received considerable attention in the blogosphere, including these posts:

Now We Are Six by Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock

Is there any kid who does not love giraffes? They are just so amazing: tall, leggy, fast and graceful, with prehensile tongues and a need to go through complex calistehnics in order to drink. The favourites at zoos, in natural history museums and on TV nature shows….Giraffes were also important players in the history of evolutionary thought and I bet you have all seen, and heard the criticisms of, the iconic comparison between Lamarck’s and Darwin’s notions of evolution using a comic strip featuring giraffes and how they got their long necks…. But, one thing that you think when you think of giraffes is the giraffe, i.e., one thing, one species. There have been inklings recently that this thinking may change, finally culminating in a very interesting paper published yesterday…

There Are More Giraffe Species Than You Think

How many species of giraffes are there? Well, it may surprise you to learn this, but some people have actually thought about this throughout the decades, and they decided that there is only one species, Giraffa camelopardalis. However, a paper published today in BMC Biology convincingly demonstrates that giraffes are actually comprised of at least six, and possibly as many as eleven separate species instead of just one, as originally thought.

Origins of Multicellular Life

Laden and Laelaps, in different posts, explore recent peer reviewed research on the pre-Cambrian, and Myers looks into the vertebrate eye.

Avalon and the origin of multicellular life at Greg Laden’s Blog

What is evolution about? Why are there different species, rather than just one (or a few) highly variable species? Is there a close correspondence between the ecological “spaces” that organisms can fit and the adaptations … represented by morphology, for instance … of the species that do exist? Can you imagine a different world where instead of having 10,000 species of birds there is only one bird that is highly adaptable in its behavior, able to change diets or nesting patterns as needed to fit to any given ecological niche?

Explosions in the Garden of Ediacara by Brian Switek at Laelaps.

Some of the biggest misunderstandings about the evolution of life on earth surround the “Cambrian Explosion,” the popular impression often being that complex multicellular life sprung up out of nowhere in an instant. While it does appear that there was an “explosion” and that new body plans identifying early representatives of various phyla evolved rapidly, the Cambrian extinctions are usually ignored, and so too are the strange creatures that lived during the Ediacaran. The Ediacaran Period preceded the Cambrian, and while its exact span has been difficult to determine, it has been estimated to have lasted from 635 to 542 million years ago. During this time creatures just as strange (if not stranger) than those found in the famous Cambrian deposits of the Burgess Shale and Chenjiang appeared, and a new paper in Science by Shen et al. has attempted to explain the diversity of these older forms.

Evolution of vertebrate eyes by PZ Myers at Pharyngula.

A while back, I summarized a review of the evolution of eyes across the whole of the metazoa — it doesn’t matter whether we’re looking at flies or jellyfish or salmon or shrimp, when you get right down to the biochemistry and cell biology of photoreception, the common ancestry of the visual system is apparent. Vision evolved in the pre-Cambrian, and we have all inherited the same basic machinery — since then, we’ve mainly been elaborating, refining, and randomly varying the structures that add functionality to the eye.

Pattern and Process

It’s about inevitability…. at Gene Expression explores the interactions between species sharing a branch on an evolutionary bush.

… regarding the other hominid groups. Certainly some of them had some longevity on their side, but, it is important to note we are considerably more numerous. One could integrate across the time period that these species flourished and sum up total numbers to compare a raw count and use this as an estimator of “success.” But as I said, much hinges on words such as successful.

Diversity linked to ecosystem function by Peter Etnoyer at Deep-Sea News.

A recent study linking deep-sea biodiversity to ecosystem processes recognized that 1) the deep-sea supports the largest biomass of living things on the planet and 2) the deep-sea represents the most important ecosystem for carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous cycling. The chosen indicator species for the study was the nematode worm.

A piece on human evolution: Evolving Bigger Brains through Cooking: A Q&A with Richard Wrangham at the Scientific American site.

A couple of million years ago or so, our hominid ancestors began exchanging their lowbrow looks for forehead prominence. The trigger for the large, calorie-hungry brains of ours is cooking, argues Richard W. Wrangham, the Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. He hit on his theory after decades of study of our closest cousin, the chimpanzee.

The Great Chain of Being…

… may be an invalid idea, but the Great Chain of the Internet is real. Linking Linnaeus is a post at The Disperal of Darwin blog, with nearly two dozen organized links to Linnaeus related resources…

On December 12, Edward O. Wilson spoke on “The Great Linnean Enterprise” at the Linnean Society. I think it is, however, a retelling of another lecture he gave in 2004 for the American Philosophical Society as part of a symposium, “Science, Art, and Knowledge: Practicing Natural History from the Enlightenment to the Twenty-first Century” (papers given at this symposium are available online as pdfs, including Wilson’s “The Linnaean Enterprise: Past, Present, and Future.” Deb of A Celebration of Mundanity gives her thoughts on the 2007 lecture here, and the Linnean Society has a schedule of upcoming 2008 programs… [Go to the post to find a zillion links to all of these resources]

The Digital Cuttlefish continues the theme of connections into entirely unexpected territory with Of Trees, and Life, and Fun

Clicking in through a post at The Loom, I was led to a wonderfully inspirational site, the Interactive Tree Of Life! For some people, a site like this puts them immediately in mind of Darwin. Others, Linnaeus. Others, Gould. Others, others. … Not me. … Me, I see a site like this and immediately think of Ogden Nash. Naturally.

The Great Taxonomy Crisis of the Twenty-First Century and Other Matters

What are the Bare Necessities? is a post at the Catalogue of Organisms (the blog of Christopher Taylor, Linnaeus’ Legacy’s founder).

This is a blog on Peer Reviewed Research, in particular, Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research: Valdecasas, A. G., D. Williams & Q. D. Wheeler. 2007. ‘Integrative taxonomy’ then and now: a response to Dayrat (2005). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 93 (1): 211-216.

The question … ultimately, is the current Taxonomy Crisis – essentially, the fact that there are just too many undescribed species and not enough work being done to identify them.

Species naming rights by Jim Lemire of the blog ‘from Archaea to Zeazanthol.’

I’m not a taxonomist. I have never been involved in the discovery, description, or naming of a new species. Or even in the renaming of a species once considered something else. So, I really don’t know the logistics of providing a name to a species. I know that species are named for what they look like, where they are found, who discovered them, or in honor of someone else. I don’t know the official rules of the game or even if there are official rules, but I never once would have thought that someone could buy the rights to a species name…. Well, that’s what seems to be happening according to a story out of Scripps. Apparently, Scripps has a collection of new species that need to be named and has decided to use this as a fund-raising tool.


Reference Review: Brooms of New Zealand by Christopher Taylor of Catalogue of Organisms.

I have a suspicion that New Zealand does not have one of the most diverse floras by world standards overall. However, one can’t help noticing that within the New Zealand flora, certain genera seem to make up disproportionate numbers of species.


A word from Afarensis on Intelligent Design The Design of Life: Cleaning Evolution Out of the Augean Stables, specifically, a critique of the recent publication Design of Life.

…when I got my hands on a copy I was very interested to hear what it had to say about fossils. The chapter on human origins turned out to be a cut and paste job of Dembski’s paper published in ISCID, or PCID or whatever that defunct magazine was called, basically William Sidis this and William Sidis that.


The following is a list of additional links to a range of blog posts related to the topics at hand.

Extreme Dinosaur: Nigersaurus, the Mesozoic Cow!

PODCAST: BBC’s Great Lives on Alfred Russel Wallace

Surreal caecilians part I: tentacles and protrusible eyes

Surreal caecilians part II: pass mum’s skin, hold the mayo

Seasonal snails

The Ant Analogy


  1. #1 Christopher Taylor
    January 7, 2008

    Great work, Greg. Thanks for your effort!