At the 8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference

The 8th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference is actually a gathering of people on a conference about fishes and not a gathering of Indo-Pacific fishes conferencing. At this meeting, in Fremantle, Western Australia, seemingly more ichthyologists than fish in the Swedish seas. It is a very well organised meeting, with excellent service and excellent setting in the Esplanade hotel which I am told has 4.5 stars. Yesterday’s buffet lunch, when 400 or more delegates suddenly swarmed out of the meeting rooms, was managed smoothly with engaged restaurant staff, several line-ups, and a rich selection of dishes. The lecture rooms are well equipped, and I sat a whole day experiencing every talk starting and stopping on time. All presentations are of outstanding professional quality.

Most talks concerned with taxonomy and ecology, here and at other meetings, include use of molecular sequencing as a method of investigation. This was not so five or so years ago, when molecular techniques were employed mainly for phylogenetic relationships. In the systematics talks one of the two IMPs (Improbable Molecular Phylogeny and Intriguing Morphological Phylogeny) form the basis of the presentation. Interestingly, non-taxonomists use molecular phylogenies to arrive at baselines for conservation or to check out some biogeographical patterns (phylogeography), but there is no real interest in checking against morphology or challenge previous systematic hypotheses. Very clear opportunities for deeper analysis tend to be left as-is, because the objectives of the research group are not systematic. After all, molecular phylogenies are supposed to make morphological work unnecessary, or ?. That is probably why morphological systematics has a better explanative platform (not necessarily better explanations, though). If morphological character transformations make sense, they provide better evolutionary explanations than non-lethal mutations in DNA sections that are only proxies for shifts in tokogenetic patterns. Morphological systematics tends to be more time consuming, however, with a steeper learning curve, and more dependence on expertise of a single individual scientist; and the resolving power at population levels remains doubtful for me – that is where systematics stops. I expect this morning’s plenary by Ralf Britz (him with the Dracula fish, again), followed by others in the Ontogeny and Systematics session, to inspire some fresh air into the perspectives for the neglected developmental approach to phylogenetic analysis. Or is it so neglected? In any case, the dialogue (which should be there) between more molecule oriented and more morphology oriented researcher is definitely a dialectic needed to carry systematics forward.

Now it is time to forage for breakfast.