Epitypes and their Uses
James_L_REVEAL at UMAIL.UMD.EDU
Thu Mar 23 18:10:00 CST 1995
In working with the Linnaean Typification Project we discovered from time to
time that we had an authentic element but because of its state, the element
could not be positively identified. This was particularly true of early
illustrations for which there was no, or we could not find, "typotype" (a
"typotype" is the element from which an illustration was made; the term was
proposed several years ago by William T. Stearns, THE Linnaean scholar).
When Fred Barrie, Charlie Jarvis and myself began to talk about this we
discovered, mainly from David Hawksworth, that vague illustrations or the
remains of an algal or mycological type were particularly useless. The type
existed, but as such it could not be identified using ordinary means. The
concept we were told would be particularly useful to non-vascular plant
To address the issue we proposed, using the term "protype" which was
subsequently changed to "epitype" by the editorial committee (Barrie was a
member), that an epitype could be proposed only when the designated type(s)
and all of the authentic material could not be identified to a degree where
application of the name was possible. Anyone who wished to propose an epitype
had to first demonstrate that this was the only procedure whereby application
of the name was possible. Second, the person who proposed the epitype did so
with the understanding that if the type was subsequently identified the
epitype would no longer be needed for the specific purpose of establishing an
identity for the type specimen. Furthermore, once an epitype is proposed, it
(like a lectotype or a neotype) can not be changed without cause. Finally, an
epitype is NOT the type. The original element designated by the author is
still the type (holotype or lectotype). The only role the epitype performs is
to provide an agreed to application of the name.
The proposed was approved by the Botanical Congress in Tokyo and is now part
of the Code.
Some additional points.
If no type has been designated, and none of the available material belongs to
the taxon as now circumscribed (e.g., application of the name excludes all of
the authentic material), the name may be conserved with a conserved type if
current application of the name is desired. Under no circumstance can an
epitype be selected when any of the original material can be identified. Thus,
an epitype does not replace the requirement of conservation is most instances.
Second, original material or authentic material is now defined in the Code
and makes clear that all elements seen by an author must be considered when
typifying a name. This is a two-edge sword insofar as Linnaean names are
concerned. Philip Miller complains to a correspondant that Linnaeus spends
all of his time looking at herbarium specimens when visiting the Chelsea
Physic Garden. Miller's herbarium specimens are extant, but which ones did
Linnaeus see? Also, Linnaeus spent eight days at Oxford and used the
Sherardian Herbarium to resolve, in connection with Sherard and Dillenius'
Pinax manuscript, applications of certain names. Again, which specimens did
Linnaeus see? In my view, because one can not determine what Linnaeus
examined, these specimens can not be regarded as authentic. Yet, they fall
into the definition of a seen element. I hope no one decides not to select
an type simply because Linnaeus might have seen a specimen somewhere. The
typification process must be done with a reason level of good judgement.
Gerrit Davidse noted that a paper in Novon will propose an epitype for
the first time. This is not true as a paper by Charlie Jarvis in J. Linn. Soc.,
Bot. has already done this.
Jim Reveal (MARY)
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