Pre-Conference Workshops | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

The 13th International Polychaete Conference will take place on 4-9 August 2019, on board the famous ocean liner, RMS Queen Mary, in Long Beach, California.
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Pre-Conference Workshops

Two events will be offered the week prior to IPC 13
29 July – 2 August, 2019
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County


  • Philosophy of Biological Systematics Course
  • Introduced Species Workshop


Philosophy of Biological Systematics Course

Offered by Kirk Fitzhugh, Curator of Polychaetes, email:
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County


Systematics has become a field of research with many different and often conflicting perspectives and methods. How does one decide among these options? Is there a basis for critically evaluating how systematics should function as a science? Approaching the subject from the perspective of the philosophical foundations of science, Philosophy of Biological Systematics is a unique course offering critical examinations of the principles required to judge the scientific merits of systematics. During this five-day course, we will examine the nature of scientific inquiry and what is required for systematics to operate within established principles of rational reasoning. From those basics we can readily judge such concepts as 'parsimony,' 'likelihood,' 'Bayesianism,' and their relations to systematics; we can evaluate what is required to test phylogenetic hypotheses; how to judge empirical support for hypotheses; and why popular approaches such as separate phylogenetic analyses of partitioned data and comparing cladograms are scientifically unacceptable.

The following topics will be presented:
 1.    Introduction
2.    The goal of science. The goal of biological systematics
            a. The nature of understanding
            b. Basic foundations of scientific inquiry
            c. Systematics versus taxonomy
3.    Causal relationships in systematics
            a. Taxa and causal understanding
4.    The nature of why-questions
5.    The three forms of reasoning: deduction, induction, abduction
6.    The uses of deduction, induction, and abduction in science
            a. Defining fact, hypothesis, and theory
            b. Background knowledge
            c. Theory and hypothesis testing
d. The meanings of evidence and support
7.    Systematics involves abductive reasoning
8.    Inferences of systematics hypotheses, i.e. taxa
            a. The ‘species problem’ and its solution
            b. Specific and phylogenetic hypotheses/taxa
9.    Some implications for “phylogenetic” methods
            a. The limits of phylogenetic hypotheses
            b. Relations between types of evidence in systematics
            c. Abductive reasoning and parsimony
            d. Abductive reasoning and likelihood
            e. Abductive reasoning and Bayesianism
10.  Dating cladograms: a brief critique
11.  The Requirement of total evidence (RTE)
            a. Relation of RTE to inference
            b. Relation of RTE to systematics
            c. Implications for systematics
            d. The errors of cladogram comparisons and character mapping
12.  Homology & homogeny & homoplasy
            a. Richard Owen’s use of homologue and homology
            b. E.R. Lankester’s replacement terms, homogen, homogeny, and homoplasy
            c. Implications of abductive reasoning for the utility of these concepts
13.  Character coding
            a. Why character coding is necessary for systematics
            b. Accurately representing observation statements
            c. Character coding, why-questions, and the data matrix
14.  Problems with ‘ordered’ characters
15.  Sequence data and phylogenetic inference: implications of top-down causation
16.  The mechanics of hypothesis testing in biological systematics
            a. Traditional misconceptions about testing phylogenetic hypotheses
            b. Basics of testing explanatory hypotheses
            c. The uses of evidence, revisited
            d. What is actually required to test phylogenetic hypotheses
            e. The limits on acquiring causal understanding via phylogenetic hypotheses
            f.  The myths of support measures: bootstrap, jack-knife, Bremer, etc.
17.  Implications for nomenclature
18.  Defining biodiversity and conservation
Participants will be provided reprints covering the topics in the course, as well as a PDF file with all course slides (>1000 pages) and associated notes.


Introduced Species Workshop

Offered by Leslie Harris, Collection Manager of Polychaetes, email:
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County


Taxonomists in various parts of the world sometimes use the same name for different species or use different names for the same species. This may be due to their level of experience, the difficulty of reading papers in other languages, the use of identification guides from other regions, or not having access to enough literature. Incorrect identifications lead to exaggerated or underestimated geographic, bathymetric, and habitat ranges. The result is inaccurate assessments of introduced and native species in a particular region. Ecologists, project managers, and stake holders may make poor decisions based on incorrect data.

Regional specialists who do faunal studies seldom get the chance to see comparative material or examine type material to confirm their identifications. The best way to resolve this problem is to have taxonomists come together in one place to compare their specimens from different regions.

For example, Species X was described from Greenland. It has been reported from northern Europe, Japan, California, the Mexican Pacific, the Philippines, the Red Sea, Caribbean Costa Rica, Chile, and southern Brazil, from the intertidal to 1600 meters, from sand banks, harbors, rocky shores, and offshore soft sediments. Are all these reports accurate?

Prospective workshop participants will be asked to send in a list of the non-indigenous species (NIS) they report for their areas several months prior to the meeting. These will be combined into a spreadsheet which will go back to the participants. The species with the widest distribution will be the target species for the workshop. Everyone should bring their own specimens for examination. Information will be distributed on how to legally pack & carry specimens on planes.

Participants who have access to authoritative, topotype, or type specimens of species on the final list should bring those as well. We hope to have type material on hand. For example, Hartman described Boccardia proboscidea using California specimens. Most of her original material is deposited in the NHMLAC and will be available for review. This will allow attendees who report B. proboscidea to compare their own material to Hartman’s specimens. We encourage people to bring specimens preserved in 95% ethanol so they can be subsampled for DNA. Results will be sent to all attendees & deposited into the BOLD database.

The best way to ensure taxonomic continuity between surveys and between geographic regions is to facilitate communication between taxonomists. This workshop is dedicated to that principle. It is the first to bring together people and specimens from different regions for direct comparison. I hope it will be successful and provide useful information to all the participants.

The workshop will take place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Due to space consideration the number of attendees will be limited to 20. Participants will have full access to the Polychaete collection and library during the week. Rooms will be available at the University of Southern California’s guest housing facility, a ten-minute walk from the museum. Information on registration and housing costs will be provided later.