News Story

Prioritization of taxa for funding



29 August, 2014

Sarah Spaulding

We aim to provide taxon records, that is, to “populate” the online flora for diatoms with additional species pages. Since our launch in 2010, we have increased both the number of expert contributors and taxa, and our goal is to reach 3000 (or more) species pages to document the diatom flora of North America. It is also important to the success of this new resource to be both useful to analysts, agencies, and the broader scientific community.

One of the considerations in prioritizing taxa for inclusion is the availability of experts in the needed time frame. The Editorial Review Board (ERB) will need to exhibit flexibility to adjust groups (genera) treated based on expert availability and timing of contributions. We have recommended elsewhere that our working philosophy is to minimize administrative tasks, optimize coordination between USGS, EPA and other potential funders, consider projects of regional focus and respond to feedback from the user community. Note, however, that these recommendations apply to species pages that are funded. There are no limitations to contributors initiating species pages of their chosing.

There are a number of potential options for prioritizing taxa and we recommend the following:

1) Include taxa that are important for analyses. Diatoms are good indicators of particular environmental conditions and taxa can be selected that are indicative of a certain condition, such as taxa characteristic of reference sites, high nutrient sites, or soft-water sites. For example, many of the taxa indicative of reference and disturbed sites (Potapova and Carlisle 2011) have already had species pages completed.

2) Include taxa that are important in planned surveys. To date, the ERB has worked in a retrospective manner, including taxa from previous surveys. It is possible to develop species pages for upcoming surveys and priority projects, if we know what those surveys might be. For example, if a survey of western rivers is planned in 2015, species from that region and habitat ought to be prioritized for development in anticipation of analyst need.

3) Include (or revise?) taxa that appear at the greatest frequency in analyst discrepancies. Some taxa appear at a higher frequency than expected among analysts in national surveys. We do not know if these could be due to regional geographic distributions or by analyst tendency to favor certain taxa. Many of these taxa already have species pages completed, so the issue might be something other than making pages available. What tools to analysts need to be able to distinguish species?

4) Include the most common taxa and those taxa that are similar or often confused by analysts. We have documented the 350 most common taxa in US rivers, the number of samples in which they occur, and the % of samples in which they occur. Expert contributors, before they enter into a cooperative agreement, are asked to contribute specific taxon pages for species from this list. They would also be asked to provide a list of similar or confused taxa based on sample analyses, or the expert’s knowledge of taxonomic issues with the group of interest. The expert would then produce taxon records for the common taxa and their “allies” or species complex, which could vary in number.

5) Leverage existing species treatments for inclusion. An efficient use of existing resources is to include a) taxa that experts have already researched and published manuscripts, b) taxa under study for current projects (National Science Foundation, National Park Service, others) and c) taxa that have been treated in past taxonomic workshops. Furthermore, these taxa are most often those in both groups 1 and 2, above. With existing sample records, microscope slides cleaned material, and in many cases, light and SEM micrographs these taxa can be more readily formatted into templates for submission to the online database.