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RE: C. bottae taxonomy

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Posted by: CKing at Sun Nov 30 10:35:21 2008  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by CKing ]  

>>You mention: "Their conclusion was scientific because it was based on the available evidence at the time."
>>We have discussed this point before. I contend that there was no evidence and thus no scientific basis for making the assertion that a break occurred in the distribution of the Rubber Boa in the vicinity of Mt. Lassen Nat. Park. When I read the draft of the paper, that very point stood out like a sore thumb. But at the time, I wasn't able to convince Glenn of my reasoning and it seems that I have not been convincing with you as well.>>.

Feeling or intuition is very useful and it has often guided scientists to great discoveries and it has also helped overturn existing orthodoxy. In this case, your "feeling" has proven correct. You are justified to criticize Rodriguez-Robles' conclusion. They appeared to have treated the lack of evidence of the presence of rubber boas in the Mt. Lassen region as evidence of absence. They perhaps should have concluded that this region may have been poorly sampled and concluded that it is unknown whether the Northwestern subclade and Sierra Nevada subclade may overlap in distribution. However, Rodriguez-Robles' conclusion is also valid based on the available evidence at the time, as they probably have no way of knowing just how poorly sampled the Mt. Lassen area may have been.

>>Having tissue taken and tested from two specimens from distant localities does not represents scientific evidence of a break in distribution for any species. Had the two nearest specimens tested from the two subclades been from near Portland, Oregon and Yosemite Park, would that indicate a break in the species distribution somewhere between those two localities?
>>Where samples of tissue originate has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the distribution of a species whether such samples were taken from specimens 500 meters or 500 km apart.. And I found no attempt at any scientific inquiry with respect to whether or not a break occurs in the boas distribution in that region.>>

These criticisms are justified and valid scientific criticisms. Of course, anyone is free to disagree with Rodriguez-Robles' theory and disprove them with new facts. And you and your collaborators have done that by providing new specimens from this area. I congratulate you on your efforts and persistence.

>>Had the authors conducted some survey for the species in that region, had they made inquiries with rangers, biologists, ranchers, and other residents in the region, had they undertaken an analysis of habitat and elevation components of the species distribution and accepted the concept of habitat association, had they conferred with experts in the history of climate and geology in the region, or had they simply consulted institutional records for vouchers in that region, then I would agree that they had some scientific basis to assert that a break occurs in the species distribution. >>

New distributional records for many species are published every month within the pages of Herpetological Review. There is certainly a lot that we do not know about the distribution of many species, even the most well known ones. Snakes are secretive by nature, and their true abundance and distribution have often been shrouded in mystery, and of course the Rubber Boa is a well known example. It was once thought to be very rare, but your research helped shatter that misconception. Perhaps Rodriguez-Robles et al. were too hasty in concluding that there was a break in distribution. However, the data shows no overlap between the two subclades, and even with additional samples there is still no evidence that they occur in the same locality. Their data may have misled them into thinking that there was a break. Rodriguez-Robles is also the senior author of the mtDNA paper on Lampropeltis zonata. He may not have seen the similarities in distributional history between L. zonata and C. bottae. If he had, he might have wondered why L. zonata multicincta was able to move past the Sierra Nevada mountains and made it all the way to Oregon and Northern California and therefore there is little reason for Charina bottae not to be able to do the same. But then again, are scientists correct that there is a break in the distribution of L. zonata in Oregon? Perhaps the range of L. zonata is continuous from Oregon to Washington? At some point, scientists have to decide whether the evidence avaialable is reasonably complete or not. In hindsight, Rodriguez-Robles made the incorrect decision. But that is life, you win some and you lose some.

>>The first error was indicating a distance of 120 km between the two nearest specimens of each subclade, one at Eagle Lake (Northwestern Subclade) and one in Nevada County (Sierra Nevada subclade) by overlooking a much closer Sierra Nevada subclade specimen that occurred just east of Quincy in central Plumas County. And had the authors simple examined the list of vouchers in the MVZ collection at Berkeley, they would have noted two specimens closer to Mt. Lassen then either the Eagle Lake or Quincy specimens.
>>The MVZ printout (I obtained in about 2000) has a specimen found at Silver Lake in Lassen Co. which is about 15 mile due east of the summit of Mt. Lassen and about 25 -30 miles southeast of the Eagle Lake specimen. Also, there is a specimen from Morgan Springs (Ranch) about 10 -12 miles due south of the Mt. Lassen summit in northeastern Tehama Co. and about 12 - 15 miles west of Chester. Either of those two specimens dispel any notion of a break occurring in the species' distribution in the Mt. Lassen region.
>>Richard F. Hoyer

I don't know if their printout would have showed the same results or not, because their paper was finished prior to AD 2000. But, again, if scientists base their conclusions on the available evidence, then they have a scientific theory supported by evidence. Of course, as the late S.J. Gould pointed out, scientists are wrong most of the time, because new facts turn up constantly. Unless one has the ability to see these new facts before they are discovered, nothing much will change, and scientists will make wrong conclusions well into the future. However, there is no harm when scientific theories are falsified, although there often is harm to scientific careers. Hence, even though scientific theories are meant to be tested and falsified by new, undiscovered facts, some scientists often act as though they are religious zealots and treat their own theories as indisputable, unfalsifiable objective truth.


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