ICBN clarification sought.

Timothy S. Ross rosst at CGS.EDU
Sun Dec 17 17:19:27 CST 1995

Taxacomers should be relieved to note that I actually have a serious
enquiry to post.  This relates to interpretation of one element in the
International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (Tokyo 1994):

        The "problem" that I'm posing here came to light a few months ago
when I was proofreading a paper for, and at the request of, one our
graduate students.  [This graduate student is already an expert in his
family of interest, surpassing most of our other graduate students by a
quarter of a lifetime in terms of his practical taxonomic knowledge and
skills.  Hence, I had no problems with the taxonomic scheme that he was
proffering.]  In the manuscript, he was recognizing a new species, the
previous collections of which had been generally misidentified as another
closely related species.  He designated a holotype, with its appropriate
isotypes, and then cited all remaining collections known to him under the
heading of "Paratypes", including a couple of collections which later in
the paper he discusses as anomalous in morphology and possibly of hybrid
origin between the new species and a closely related species.
        Based on my own concepts of what constitutes appropriate typology
(and how I interpret the Greek element "para-"), I indicated to him that
the type material -- including the paratypes -- should all be
representative of the "typical" expression of the taxon (in a semantic
sense) such that any subsequent taxonomist examining a solitary paratype
would not be misled about the taxonomic concept.  From a pragmatic
standpoint as well, many herbaria segregate their type material from the
general herbarium collection.  In some herbaria, only holotypes, isotypes,
syntypes, lectotypes, and neotypes are segregated; in others, even the
paratypes are kept separately from the general collection.  Assuming that a
large herbarium such as NY, US, or F segregates all its types, including
paratypes (this is hypothetical; I do not know it to be true), then the
curator might be a little miffed to discover that all 8 sheets of this
newly described species, spanning seven collectors and 1880-1993, must now
go into the type collection without a single non-type specimen to represent
the taxon in the general collection.  To me, this seems to constitute a
form of typological inflation.
        Hence, I suggested to him that he select a subset of his paratypes
-- these being among the best prepared and preserved collections and all
quite "typical" of the taxon -- and designate these as paratypes, and then
cite the remainder under the heading Other Specimens Examined (or something
similar).  It was clear that he wanted to cite all known specimens
collected to date because of the long-standing confusion between the new
species and the similar species whose name had been misapplied to it.
        He pointed out to me, however, that according to the Code any other
specimens cited are automatically paratypes, so it wouldn't matter how he
designated them (Other specimens seen, etc.), they would still be
considered paratypes under the Code.  This was news to me, so when I got
home I leafed around through the Tokyo Code seeking clarification.  ARTICLE
9.5 states quite simply and clearly (?!) that "A paratype is a specimen
cited in the protologue that is neither the holotype nor an isotype, nor
one of the syntypes if two or more specimens were simultaneously designated
as types".
        Once I read this nice definition, I understood our student's
interpretation and could not argue with it.  It seems to me that this
definition is useful for dealing with somewhat vague protologues of 50-100
years ago prior to the reformation, canalization, and canonization of the
Code, but it strikes me as (im)practically restrictive in the type of
example that I am citing above.  A fully conscious human being, who
attempts to present the results of their taxonomic and nomenclatural
studies within the parameters established by the Code, should be able to
clearly establish and designate in the protologue those collections that
they consider to be types and non-(para)types.  The definition of paratype
provided in the current Code (and cited above) strikes me as a
cookie-cutter definition that is designed to automatically parse out the
cited specimens in a protologue on the assumption that the individuals
describing taxa are too damn*d stupid to do it themselves.
        Under this paratype definition, there seems to be no room for any
interpretation other than that arrived at by our student.  The student and
I brought the issue to one of our staff taxonomists, who was also surprised
at the Codified definition of paratype, as his original understanding
corresponded to mine.  I realize that, as an idealist, my typological
concepts are already somewhat at odds with Section 7.2, which states in
part, "A nomenclatural type (typus) ... is not necessarily the most typical
or representative element of a taxon".  However, in my opinion, the whole
purpose of typification is to establish clarity of the taxonomic concept
through the consciously designated association of representative material
and formally applied name.  The cookie-cutter definition would appear to
obstruct such efforts in cases like the one cited above.
        A competent taxonomist should be able to designate types in a
manuscript describing a new taxonomic entity, but should also be able to
cite other collections of the taxon IN THE SAME PAPER, indicating that he
or she does not consider them to be type material, without them
automatically becoming paratypes.  The impractical alternative is to
publish a brief paper citing the additional collections following the paper
in which the new taxon is described.  I believe that the definition of
paratype, as used in the Code, is stated in such a way that it cannot be
interpreted any other way, but also believe that this definition is
deficient and impractical, and needs to be modified appropriately.
        I would appreciate hearing (reading) comments from those who have
spent much more time than I digesting the philosophy and the letter of the
Code.  I presume that I will get SOME feedback on this issue, and I
particularly look forward to those responses that will provide constructive
clarification.  My thanks for your time!

                                                        -- Tim.

Sr. Curatorial Asst.
RSA-POM Herbarium
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
1500 North College Avenue
Claremont, CA 91711, U.S.A.
(909) 625-8767 ext. 233
FAX (909) 626-7670
rosst at cgs.edu

"At the end of a fortnight, I fired myself for willful incompetence."
              -- Donald Culross Peattie (The Road of a Naturalist, 1941)

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