Focal taxon exercise

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We believe that no one can truly understand the concept of biodiversity without actually knowing some biodiversity personally. We ask the students to adopt a particular taxon and make detailed observations of species of this taxon at each site, as an amateur taxonomists and field naturalists. The goal of this exercise is to get them to look carefully at a group of related species, learning to seeing intra- and interspecific variation, and to observe the ecological differences.

General guidelines

  • We encourage you to pick a taxon you don’t know very much about.
  • It does not matter if we don’t have resource books in library. We expect that you will use morphotype names and codes for each taxon.
  • The group should be monophyletic.
  • The taxon should not have too many species (total species in Borneo < 500?)
  • You should aim to observe between 20 and 50 taxa during the whole course.
  • At each forest—Lambir, Niah, Gaya, Deramakot, Gunung Kinabalu, Maliau Basin—make

observations on your taxon, both morphological and ecological.

  • Keep a detailed field notebook with drawings (may be briefly reviewed by staff)
  • Your observation should take 10-20 minutes in the field and lab
  • Unfortunately, you cannot remove collections of organisms from any sites, and some taxa cannot be collected (birds, mammals, etc). So you must chose your characters early and stick with them.
  • See last years’ reports for examples.

The product

The product should be a mini-monograph (see Davies 2001 as an example), with these components:

  • Species-by-species accounts:
    • Your morphotype name
    • A 10-character (or less) mophotype code
    • The Latin binomial, if possible (please do consider following up on your taxa identifications after finishing the course: online, or even by visiting museums and herbaria)
    • General description of the morphology of the organism (a couple sentences, detailed morphological characters should not appear here, but in the matrix instead)
    • Ecological observations (habitat, abundance)
    • Behavioral observations (activity, time of day observed, calls, species interactions)
    • A photo, and/or a photo of your drawings
  • Site-by-site distribution matrix (columns = sites, rows = taxa, 1/0 in cells)
  • Mesquite character data matrix
  • The phlyogeny that you will develop

Character matrix

You will be collecting a standard set of character observations for each taxon. These characters should be optimally be homologous for all the taxa, and be apomorphies that define clades. E.g., for plants, leaf arrangement is a poor character, because it is so plastic and is generally not a synapomorphy. A complex (derived) flower character is a better one for both determination (diagnosis) and phylogeny building. Size is also generally a poor character. Please use just nominal characters (multistate, unordered). Build your matrix with Mesquite (details coming…)

You should aim to create a matrix of ca. 15-25 taxa by 10-15 characters.

When linking to your NEXUS file on the wiki, upload the file with an a suffix .nex, and use, e.g.: [[Media:Trees.nex|my data matrix]], to get a link: my data matrix.

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