Francis Lee: "Dark Taxa: Betrayed Boundaries, Phantom Species, and the Complexities of Digital Classification"

  • Date: –15:00
  • Location: Engelska parken 6-3025 (Rausing Room)
  • Organiser: Department of History of Science and Ideas
  • Contact person: Otto Sibum
  • Seminarium

History of Science Seminar Series

Research presentation by Francis Lee, Chalmers University of Technology

This seminar will be held in English. 

Abstract: 

The swelling tide of digitized genomic data in the wake of metagenomics has ushered in a new way of sensing nature. These developments have led to the detection of a sea of “dark taxa”—genetic traces from hypothetical new species—that have only been sensed through digital and genomic techniques. This points to an unseen ecological diversity of unknown magnitude. Potentially millions of unknown species have been brought to light through emerging digital and molecular techniques, with profound implications for how we understand species, nature, and ecology. 

In mycology—the study of mushrooms—the sensing of “dark taxa” has sparked fervent debates surrounding their integration into established taxonomic practices. Skeptics argue that recognizing these enigmatic and hypothetical entities betrays the essence of taxonomy. In contrast, advocates stress the importance of including “dark taxa” in the tree of life and the need to acknowledge this sea of previously unknown fungal diversity, their ecological significance, and the evolutionary patterns at play. 

This paper explores the sensing of nature through data driven methodologies as well as the debate about digital species classification in mycology. The paper uses translation and betrayal as an analytical lens to think through this multispecies conundrum. Who and what is translated or betrayed, and when? It investigates the consequences of defining species boundaries, standardizing identification protocols, and reconciling conflicting taxonomic perspectives. By foregrounding the parallel processes of translation and betrayal, the paper focuses on how someone’s translation is always someone else’s betrayal.