Splitters and Lumpers

Michael chambe58 at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Feb 17 14:40:36 CST 1999

At 11:47 AM 2/17/99 -0600, you wrote:
>I agree with points made by Andreas Gminder regarding the selling of names
>and the potential increase in new species. I also fear an enormous increase
>of "new species", and (possibly?) institutional pressure on systematists to
>"discover" them.  In spider systematics there are frightening examples of
>excessive splitting, e.g., with a single author creating over 30 junior
>subjective synonyms for a common African nursery-web spider (literature
>citation available on request). Other examples are in the tarantulas:
>certain authors are describing new species and introduce new genus names in
>groups which also contain CITES-listed species, faster than professionals
>can revise them, thus supporting a rather questionable pet trade.

I will note that a constant trickle of new names (predominantly ranked as
varieties or forma) are published by hobbyists of charismatic plant groups
such as carnivorous plants and cacti.  The motivation here seems to be the
desire to author new taxa (rather than to be honored by the name OF a new
taxon).  Splitting and "over-ranking" of variation also favors the nursery
trade in collectable species.  In most cases these plants are mere sports
or local variants destined to head straight for horticulture, and would be
better treated as cultivars, since usually no study is made of the ecology,
biology,  or distribution of the plants being named.

Given this practice, and since there are no restrictions on who can publish
a new taxon name, nor requirements for the quality of the taxonomy being
published, I don't see the auctioning of epithets by taxonomists as
dangerous.  If there is a demand for this service, some entrepreneur will
find it and fill it.  I think there is an opportunity here for taxonomists
to take charge of the practice and ensure naming for patrons is done
responsibly and tastefully, and the money generated used to promote science
or conservation.


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