No Fear Taxonomy

Drop by a garden center and you will hear terms like Chrysanthemum, Rhododendron, and Philodendron used by all types of gardeners without hesitation. Visit a marine aquarium shop and you will quickly appreciate that many people seem to find scientific names for fishes and invertebrates daunting. Frankly, I find this a bit baffling. Why are the proper names for plants easy for the average person to use but not the scientific names for aquarium fishes and invertebrates?

Possibly, nonscientists are afraid of appearing foolish through mispronunciation, although one should remember that even professionals may pronounce the same name slightly differently. Even if you start out mangling a few names, most seasoned marine hobbyists and scientists will know what you mean and will uniformly thank you for at least trying to use the legitimate name rather than some of the fanciful and localized common labels that emerge from the pet trade.

Taxonomy, the science of naming and classifying living organisms, often receives a bad rap because people see it as an endless preoccupation with trivial details and confusing hierarchical classifications. In fact, taxonomy is the foundation for all other biological science. Not only does the cataloging of organisms reveal the diversity of the liv ing world, but also it opens the way for all of us to talk intelligently about our observations. A molecular geneticist in New York can compare observations about a species of clam with a marine ecologist in Palau with the assurance that the object of their observations is the same organism.

Recognizing species is an important, indeed the primary, function of taxonomy. Species are populations of actually or potentially interbreeding organisms that do not share genetic material with other, similar populations. All perceptive hobbyists are constantly expanding their memory bank of species, learning to recognize and pin a name on an ever-increasing profusion of fishes and invertebrates. Most of us start out using the common names, but the dedicated aquarist will eventually come to recognize and rely on the utility and beauty of scientific names and taxonomic relationships.

When aquarists become more fluent in the use of the correct scientific names of the organisms they work with, we will all be better off. Why? Because scientific names make our communications about these organisms more precise. The species that I refer to as Flowerpot Coral may be called Sunflower Coral by someone else, but the scientific name, Goniopora lobata, is unambiguous. This is the beauty of taxonomy; every organism that has been formally v •

Aquarium and Fish Care Tactics

Aquarium and Fish Care Tactics

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