Authors of species names

Undetermined origin c/o Postmaster POSTMASTER at HARVARDA.BITNET
Tue Aug 10 16:47:48 CDT 1993

Matt Bolton:

I have just received e-mail from Jim Croft (Canberra) and Julian
Humphries (Ithaca) on the inclusion of authors' names after the
scientific names of [plant] species.  As one much involved in Codes of
Nomenclature (particularly the Botanical one) let me add my two cents

I have the disadvantage of not knowing what an MDBC report is, but from
Jim's response to your enquiry, I assume it is ecological rather than

If so, I broadly agree with Jim's position.  The inclusion of authorship
of scientific names is to give greater precision regarding the name
(hence, I believe, the use of the word "authority" for the full
authorship citation).  In taxonomic revisions, and even in Floras and
checklists, this is essential for clarity - indeed, in these situations,
I find the Zoological Code somewhat defective in not requiring the name
of the combining author, but that may just be conditioning (and some
would argue that the botanical practice is merely an anachronistic relict
of the 19th century "Kew Rule" that restricted priority to within

"Authority" is just as necessary outside of taxonomic revisions -
probably more so - but this is not achieved by tacking on authors names
from other people's lists, not even from the Australian Plant Name Index!
Even worse is changing existing author citations to match a supposed
standard list, because this may be throwing out evidence on the source of
the name (and hence on the identity of the plants - which is what really
matters).  What we now consider a "wrong" author citation may point up
the fact that an older Flora with a different taxonomic interpretation
was used for the original identification or may represent a
misapplication of the name to what is now recognized as quite a different

Any use of scientific names (e.g. in a ecological survey) should indicate
the "authority" not of the names but of the identification of the plants
by these names: which Flora or monograph was used; which
botanist/institution vouched for the identity of the species being
enumerated?  The publications should make this clear and if there is
reference to previously published work this will normally provide
authorship of the names, should anyone feel this important.

I also agree with Jim that there is no need for authors to be abbreviated
in a standard fashion in all works;  within any one work inconsistency
looks sloppy and the reader wonders if there is some difference between
"J.D. Hooker" and "Hook. fil.".  It is for this reason that a standard
list like the recent Kew one is useful (the interim one was full of
absurdities - the authorship never expected it to become a standard, only
an "interim" working document).  Much as I enjoy the utility of computers
and hence of widely disseminated data bases, they do tend to create an
obsession on some people's part to standardize.  (I am sure the
regrettable habit, alas particularly well-developed in Australia, of
adopting the original spelling of a scientific name regardless of whether
scholarly botanists over the centuries since original publication have
corrected orthographic or typographic errors (i.e ignoring all except the
first clause of Art. 73) owes its increase to mindless
"standardization" - but I digress).

I do not share Julian Humphries strictures on the use of authorship of
scientific names on specimen labels.  The cited authorship is often very
useful in discerning the basis for the particular identification - yes it
may reveal the collector's or the later identifier's ignorance, but in a
clarifying rather than confusing manner.

In summary, cite real "authorities", not latter-day additions of

John McNeill (Vice-rapporteur, Nomenclature Section, International
              Botanical Congress)
Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M5S 2C6, Canada.

Tel 416-586-5639
Fax 416-586-8044
rom!john at

   Jim Beach
   Julian Humphries

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