10: Methods of Taxonomy and Diagnostics
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The goal of taxonomy is to describe diversity, provide an insight to the evolutionary history (phylogeny), help to determine organisms (diagnostics) and allow for taxonomic estimations. The latter means that if we know features of one plant, the taxonomically close one should have similar features. For example, plants from cabbage family (Cruciferae) contain mustard oil (which is responsible for the horseradish taste of many of them). DNA analysis shows that papaya (Carica from Moringaceae family) is taxonomically close to Cruciferae. We may guess that papaya also have mustard oil, and this is true! Papaya seeds have the prominent horseradish taste.
One of the oldest methods of taxonomy is expert-based. Experts produce classifications based of their exclusive knowledge about groups. First taxonomic expert was Carolus Linnaeus (XVIII century). Experts use a variety of methods, including phenetics, cladistics (see below), general evolutionary approach, their ability to reshape available information and their intuition. Their goal is to create the “mind model” of diversity and then convert it to classification, using neighbor groups as a reference (for example, to assign ranks).