August 8, 2013

The genus Iconella in the New World

Yesterday I was happy to see a paper I co-authored to come out in Zookeys. It is a review of the genus Iconella in the New World. The paper can be freely downloaded here.

Iconella canadensis, a new species described from North America (Canada).

The main reason I am happy to see that paper out is not for the paper per se -nor I am writing this post "to promote" the reading of that manuscript. What I am interested to mention here is the integrative approach that we used in that work:

1- Extensive use of illustrations to show morphological characters.
2- Extensive use of parasitoid biology (host data).
3- Extensive use of molecular data (DNA barcoding).
4- Morphological study of species -i.e. "traditional taxonomy".
5- Use (and illustration) of geographic distribution of species.
6- Generation of descriptions via an automated system (Lucid software). 

The combination of those tools allowed us to move in a relatively fast fashion regarding the taxonomic treatment of those species. The paper covers 5 species (3 of them new, although all species were keyed out, described, and illustrated). And it took 10 days of work to complete it -or 2 weeks of 5 working days. Extrapolating that to a yearly basis that would mean around 100 species/year. [That, of course, does not factor the review time, which is beyond control of the authors. It does not factor either the time to prepare and mount specimens from alcohol, which can be a time-consuming task. I am just providing that time frame as a ballpark estimate]. Needless to say that this is a relatively small paper, and things may not necessarily be extrapolated the same way to other (and larger) groups. 

But, we are also working (most of the same authors of the Iconella paper) on a much larger review (205 species of Apanteles from Mesoamerica). There, we basically followed the same integrative approach -and it took approximately the same pace to be completed (just slightly slower, due to the relatively high number of morphologically cryptic species). That paper should be submitted soon for review, and hopefully I can talk more about it on another post here in the near future.

For now, I am just sharing the idea of combining approaches to have some things done in a faster way. Of course, the idea is not new -and, in fact, I had already written about the topic in a previous post about "turbo-taxonomy". Many other researchers have published and worked with similar approaches, and I would not claim any original paradigm here. We are just trying to see how "sustainable" those efforts could be, and how far can they be extended.

Hopefully more post will continue to explore those avenues...

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