878 pages, colour & b/w plates, b/w illustrations, tables
Systematics of Western North American Butterflies brings together some 73 papers authored by 22 lepidopterist specialists who have spent hundreds of man-years studying the butterflies of western North America. These chapters in many cases represent the accumulated results of 20-30 years or more of unpublished study of specific single genera and species complexes. The rugged topography and endlessly varied landscape of the Pacific Coast and Great Basin states, western Canadian provinces, and northern Mesoamerica have offered a fertile stage for the evolutionary development of new species and subspecies of butterflies, to a degree unmatched almost anywhere else in the temperate latitudes. Thus it is not surprising that the number of new taxa described in this volume represents the single greatest outpouring of taxonomic knowledge on the western North American fauna since the great 1852-1936 period of descriptive books and papers by Jean Boisduval, Herman Behr, William Henry Edwards, and John Adams Comstock, to name but a few of the foremost authors of those eight decades.
It is timely and almost overdue to have "Systematics of Western North American Butterflies" appear in the year 1998 (after a ten-year gestation and development period). The worldwide concern about preservation of biodiversity, the U.S. public's strong interest in natural history conservation, and our personal familiarity with the environmental hazards of unchecked development, all combine to cry out for the preservation of even "the little things that run the world," as Edward O. Wilson has said about insects in general. Without full knowledge of what diversity we have at hand in our western states and provinces, we cannot be aware of the most critical areas that we must protect in order to keep our butterfly fauna and the rest of their natural world with us for posterity.
Basic taxonomy in the past has often been viewed by scientists and the lay public as a "dry" discipline, relegated to dusty museum rooms and unappreciated as a scientific contribution by the "real world". Today, we know it is a vital discipline, a foundation to all the other biological sciences which depend on taxonomists, gifted amateurs and professionals alike, to provide the basic nomenclatural infrastructure on which all accurate scientific communication about biological phenomena depends. "What organism is it?" is now more essential than ever to know. Systematics, biodiversity, conservation is the new partnership involving taxonomy, itself the world's oldest biological discipline. The reward of taxonomists will be the appreciation of future generations, who will have a little bit preserved to see and enjoy as a result of this generation's efforts in identifying the parts of our natural world still unclassified, still unknown, and imminently threatened with extinction, too often only because of ignorance of their existence and lack of sufficient workers in the field.
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