Friday, March 04, 2005

Lions, Tigers, and Hobbits, Oh, My!

In the 80s and early 90s, taxonomy was a quiet field. There were some debates about classification of particular dinosaur species, but, all in all, things were passive. Today we're entering a period of accelerated species discovery. In coming decades, taxonomists are going to have their hands full; many presently accepted scientific classifications will be amended or overturned. This is as exciting as it is intimidating.

A related debate has recently been making headlines, but the Homo floresiensis classification is at last settled. The little people are, indeed, a new species. I have to admit to some initial skepticism. Too many biologists are eager to "discover" new species and, along with the pressure of the publish or perish system, their eagerness can lead to flawed conclusions.

In the case of Homo floresiensis, however, Professor Peter Brown has been proven correct. Now anthropologists and biologists can begin working together to hypothesize how Homo floresiensis shrank while simultaneously developing a more complex brain.

Photo credit: copyright Nature, 2005

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