The Hispanic Society of America and taxonomy

The Hispanic Society of America and taxonomy Campus of the Hispanic Society of America on the Audubon Terrace in Washington Heights, New York City. Asaavedra32, CC.

On Broadway’s northern end, where the tip of Manhattan island begins to narrow between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, is buried the great American naturalist John James Audubon. The area, known as Audubon Terrace, is where Archer Milton Huntington founded the Hispanic Society of America as a place to collect, preserve and study artifacts of Hispanic culture. Established in 1904, shortly following the Spanish-American War for Cuba and the Philippines, the Society had to overcome negative views of Spain in America at the time.

A small representation of the Huntington legacy is currently on exhibit in the Prado. And copies of the sculpture El Cid Campeador, created and gifted to Spain by his wife Anna Hyatt Huntington, are on public display in Seville and Valencia. The Huntingtons generosity also included donating their Adirondack Great Camp and surrounding 15,000 preserve in the wild Adirondack region of upstate New York, including their stunning Huntington Lodge, to what is now New York State’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). We recently participated in a workshop there titled ‘Transforming Taxonomy.’

LongPond

Long Pond, in the Saint Regis Canoe Area. MwannerCC

In his book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life the well-known biologist Edward O. Wilson reminds us that confronting the biodiversity crisis without an inventory of earth’s species is like practicing medicine without knowledge of all the organs of the human body. To date we have named only two million of an estimated ten million species. To understand the urgency of such an inventory, it is important to note that at least 20,000 species are going extinct annually.

To some, taxonomy appears to be old-fashioned, but that is far from the case. Advances in theory since the 1960s have revolutionized the field such that its classifications now reflect evolutionary history and its descriptions of species are rigorously testable hypotheses. It is in everyone’s interest that taxonomy synthesize all relevant data whether anatomical, molecular, fossil, or developmental. But comparative morphology and species descriptions have not kept pace and taxonomic methods need to be modernized and reinvigorated.

Representatives from ESF, the American Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Natural History Museum (London), and Museo Nacional Ciencias Naturales (Madrid), among others, gathered at Huntington Forest for the purpose of identifying the greatest obstacles to accelerating taxonomy and ways to overcome them.

Findings from our deliberations will be reported to the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation that funded the workshop. A species inventory is necessary, of course, to set measurable conservation goals, detect invasive species, and better understand ecosystems. But it has another equally compelling importance. If half the planet is reserved to biodiversity, then we must learn to fully meet human needs on the “other” half. Our best hope to do so lies with taxonomy and biomimicry that, together, can enable engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs to find nature-inspired designs, materials, and processes with which to create a sustainable future.

The legacy of the founder of the Hispanic Society of America thus transcends the preservation of cultural artifacts to embrace, too, the challenge of preserving species and knowledge of biodiversity. Understanding ourselves, and nature, better prepares us for the great challenges ahead. And such understanding comes from preserving and studying evidence of the past, both cultural and biological.

Quentin D Wheeler is president of ESF

Paul B. Hai is associate director of ESF’s Newcomb Campus

Antonio G Valdecasas is a researcher at MNCN (Madrid)

© 2017 Quentin D. Wheeler, Paul B. Hai, Antonio G Valdecasas. All Rights Reserved

Modificado por última vez en Viernes, 14 Julio 2017 16:31

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