arthur at ERIN.GOV.AU
Sat Mar 18 11:11:55 CST 1995
I have been trying to stay out of this argument, however I can, no longer,
I think the discussion has gone off the rails considerably, although I
think Kris has gone some way along the line he was after and that is to
get people to think about how we do taxonomy and nomenclature in today's
world. He has certainly done that.
The discussion is not really about whether we use BIONOMIALS or MONONOMIALS
or NUMBERS, that is really less an issue of science (except in so far as we
use binomials to express relationships) than it is of communication.
The purpose of giving something a name is so that you can talk about it to
someone else - i.e. to communicate something about that object.
If we never wish to talk about an object, then why name it?
Names are given to aid communication. Thus, names should be
communicatable and understood by all parties in the communication.
So much for names. What I think Krishtalka was really on about (and I
apologise if I misrepresent you, Kris) is that we have to find new, smarter
and "quicker" ways of carrying out biological taxonomy/nomenclature etc.
Two hundred and fifty years of Linnean nomenclature and systematics deriving
therefrom has lead to the description and naming of only a small percentage
(3, 5?) of the organisms present on this earth. Is another 250 years going
to bring us up to 6 or 10% - Wow! So how do we overcome this enormous
Can we afford to spend months describing in detail for "proper" publication
each and every individual species? Is it a worthwhile thing to do? Do we
need to do it? Species are, afterall, derived data and "human" concepts.
Perhaps, while we grapple with this problem, we need to look at some short-
term solutions. To speed up our present methods of operating while we
think of more radical alternatives. Some for the melting pot:
1. Begin nomenclature anew from the year 2000. "Freeze" (as already has been
mentioned existing names. Forget the historic baggage except where it is of
value. Get rid of archaic notions of historic priority whereby some obscure
name in a long forgotten nursery catalogue can change existing nomenclature
or tie up several botanists for weeks while they attempt to get conservation
of the existing name. Reduce the long list of synonyms in publications, many
of which carry no value other than to show the diligence of the researcher
in looking through obscure historic journals, etc.
2. Develop a system of electronic publication so that new names are
immediately available for use. We cannot afford to wait 20 years for someone
to finish a big revision before the names are available. Many of the new
taxa are quite rare - they need to be included in legislation etc. for
protection. Electronic publication of names is not a technical problem -
technically it is easy (to also include peer review, etc.). Consider, for
example, an electronic journal, accessible via the internet (or by sending
a floppy disc to a node) whereby all new taxa are described (it may be a copy
of what goes into a hard copy journal in the host country if that is
important). Some sort of review process occurs, and once approved that it
conforms with the "new" code is accepted and the name placed in a dynamic
list of accepted names.
3. Some form of "interim name" formulae be set up - it could be a number
system or it could be something like what is used by Botanists in Australia. e.g.
"Acacia sp. 'long-leaved' (Smith, A.J. 1234)" or
"Acacia sp. 'Jim-Jim Falls" (Smith, A.J. 12233)" etc.
Once correctly described, it can be placed in synonymy with the new name.
Such a formula can be placed in legislation, gets away from having a whole
list of 'Acacia sp. 1', 'Acacia sp. 2' etc. in one institution and the same
in another institution, and no one ever knows whether "Acacia sp. 1" in one
institution is the same as "Acacia sp. 1" in the second, etc.
This methodology retains the type concept by attaching a name to a specimen -
I make no apologies for this as I think that if we are going to retain a
nomenclature system, then the type concept is as good as any for vouchering
that name. What needs to be changed is not the TYPE CONCEPT itself, but how
we apply it. - see point 4.
4. When the "New" starting date of 2000 comes in, this should also include
some revision of the use of Types. Let us overcome the problem of obscure,
badly preserved and inadequate types by creating Neotypes or Lectotypes
where appropriate. Remember each name will now date from 2000, and the
type likewise can date from then. Of course, not every name could be
retypified by 2000 (and shouldn't be - what a waste of time!) but would be
done progressively as groups were looked at. This methodology would be used
to cement current usage of names with appropriate types chosen.
5. Wherever possible, primary data should be used. Thus the use of character
states should be used wherever possible. [Ideally tied to specimens rather
than species which are derived, but I am aware of the problem that would
create]. Programs, or at least standardised formats, such as DELTA should
be standard practice and the information databased and made available.
I think that is enough for now - I hope it progresses the debate beyond
numbers and "how I can't remember more than three at a time"!
Arthur D. Chapman [Scientific Coordinator, Biogeographic Information, ERIN]
Environmental Resources Information Network internet: arthur at erin.gov.au
GPO Box 787, Canberra, voice: +61-6-274 1066
ACT 2601, AUSTRALIA fax: +61-6-274 1333
More information about the Taxacom