Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Identifying taxonomic categories

There's a new and very interesting paper from BMC Evolutionary Biology. Here's the abstract:
Algorithmic approaches to aid species' delimitation in multidimensional morphospace
Ezard et al.

The species is a fundamental unit of biological pattern and process, but its delimitation has proven a ready source of argument and disagreement. Here, we discuss four key steps that utilize statistical thresholds to describe the morphological variability within a sample and hence assess whether there is evidence for one or multiple species. Once the initial set of biologically relevant traits on comparable individuals has been identified, there is no need for the investigator to hypothesise how specimens might be divided among groups, nor the traits on which groups might be separated.
Principal components are obtained using robust covariance estimates and retained only if they exceed threshold amounts of explanatory power, before model-based clustering is performed on the dimension-reduced space. We apply these steps in an attempt to resolve ongoing debates among taxonomists working on the extinct Eocene planktonic foraminifera Turborotalia, providing statistical evidence for two species shortly before the lineage's extinction near the Eocene/Oligocene boundary.
By estimating variance robustly (samples containing incipient species are unlikely to be scaled optimally by means and standard deviations) and identifying thresholds relevant to a particular system rather than universal standards, the steps of the framework aim to optimize the chances of delineation without imposing pre-conceived patterns onto estimates of species limits.

Interesting. Multidimensional techniques to identify the limits of a taxonomic category. That sounds familiar.

Check it out:
Ezard et al. 2010. Algorithmic approaches to aid species' delimitation in multidimensional morphospace. BMC Evolutionary Biology 10:175.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.