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Principles of Taxonomy: Documenting Biodiversity (BiSc 213)

Instructors: G. Hormiga, F.C. Thompson
Number of Credits: 3
Level of instruction: graduate
Description: A major part of the work of many, if not most, systematists involves the description (or redescription) of taxa and the numerous tasks related to it, such as nomenclature, cataloguing, scientific illustration, taxonomic keys, production of monographs, etc. The advances in systematic theory over the last two decades have resulted in a significant increase of the theoretical ground that needs to be covered by general systematics courses, particularly those aspects related to phylogenetic inference. This has resulted in a decrease of the coverage of more applied aspects of systematics (usually referred as descriptive or classic taxonomy). Nevertheless, most systematics graduate students have a major descriptive taxonomic component in their theses and dissertations. This course complements GW's training program in systematics. Because Principles of Taxonomy: Documenting Biodiversity is the only course of its kind offered in the Washington area it has the potential of attracting additional students from other local universities through the consortium. Principles of Taxonomy: Documenting Biodiversity is a rigorous and up-to-date treatment of those aspects of systematic biology concerned with the description and inventory of biodiversity, just about everything a systematist does except reconstruction of phylogenies. Some of the topics that will be treated are: biological nomenclature and classifications, identification and keys, taxonomic databases, scientific illustration, traditional and electronic publication, biotic inventories, and grantsmanship.
How often is the course offered: Fall Semesters odd years.
What is the average enrollment: 8-10
How broad a student audience is served by the course: Most students are graduate students from GWU (departments of Biology, Geology, and Anthropology), and University of Maryland (department of Entomology); one visitor from INBio (Costa Rica) and one visiting student from the Zoological Museum (Copenhagen) took the course last fall (97).

Lecture Syllabus

Week 1
Introduction and Course content; History of Taxonomy.

Week 2
Scientific specimens; Natural history collections and museums; Preservation of specimens and natural history collections; Collection management and planning.

Week 3
Scientific Illustration.

Week 4
Biological classifications

Week 5
Biological Nomenclature (I)

Week 6
Biological Nomenclature (II)

Week 7
Biological Nomenclature (III)

Week 8
Biological Nomenclature (IV)

Week 9
Databases for taxonomy; Identification Keys; Introduction to DELTA (Description Language for TAxonomy).

Week 10
Biodiversity Symposium at National Academy of Sciences.

Week 11
Taxonomic Literature; Taxonomic Tools in Botany and Zoology; Taxonomic Publication; Electronic dissemination of taxonomic products; Taxonomic information in the WWW.

Week 12
Biodiversity inventories; Inferring species richness by sampling and extrapolation; A case study: The Smithsonian Institution's Biological Diversity of the Guianas Project.

Week 13
Inventories and strategies for global description; Systematics and conservation; The politics of biodiversity; Funding systematic Research.

Week 14
Student Projects - Group Critique