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The unholy trinity: taxonomy, species delimitation, and DNA barcoding

Date: Oct 29, 2005

Pub: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 360 (1462) 1905 – 1916

Author(s): DeSalle, R., Egan, M.G.

PDF Attached.


Recent excitement over the development of an initiative to generate DNA sequences for all named species on the planet has in our opinion generated two major areas of contention as to how this ‘DNA barcoding’ initiative should proceed. It is critical that these two issues are clarified and resolved, before the use of DNA as a tool for taxonomy and species delimitation can be universalized. The first issue concerns how DNA data are to be used in the context of this initiative; this is the DNA barcode reader problem (or barcoder problem). Currently, many of the published studies under this initiative have used tree building methods and more precisely distance approaches to the construction of the trees that are used to place certain DNA sequences into a taxonomic context. The second problem involves the reaction of the taxonomic community to the directives of the ‘DNA barcoding’ initiative. This issue is extremely important in that the classical taxonomic approach and the DNA approach will need to be reconciled in order for the ‘DNA barcoding’ initiative to proceed with any kind of community acceptance. In fact, we feel that DNA barcoding is a misnomer. Our preference is for the title of the London meetings—Barcoding Life. In this paper we discuss these two concerns generated around the DNA barcoding initiative and attempt to present a phylogenetic systematic framework for an improved barcoder as well as a taxonomic framework for interweaving classical taxonomy with the goals of ‘DNA barcoding’.

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