Current Topics in Avian Conservation Genetics with Special Reference to the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
Robert M. Zink
School of Natural Resources, School of Biological Sciences, and Nebraska State Museum, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 507 Hardin Hall, 3310 Holdrege St., Lincoln, NE 68583, USA
It is sometimes said that scientists are entitled to their own opinions but not their own set of facts. This suggests that application of the scientific method ought to lead to a single conclusion from a given set of data. However, sometimes scientists have conflicting opinions about which analytical methods are most appropriate or which subsets of existing data are most relevant, resulting in different conclusions. Thus, scientists might actually lay claim to different sets of facts. However, if a contrary conclusion is reached by selecting a subset of data, this conclusion should be carefully scrutinized to determine whether consideration of the full data set leads to different conclusions. This is important because conservation agencies are required to consider all of the best available data and make a decision based on them. Therefore, exploring reasons why different conclusions are reached from the same body of data has relevance for management of species. The purpose of this paper was to explore how two groups of researchers can examine the same data and reach opposite conclusions in the case of the taxonomy of the endangered subspecies Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus). It was shown that use of subsets of data and characters rather than reliance on entire data sets can explain conflicting conclusions. It was recommend that agencies tasked with making conservation decisions rely on analyses that include all relevant molecular, ecological, behavioral, and morphological data, which in this case show that the subspecies is not valid, and hence its listing is likely not warranted.
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