Splitters and Lumpers

Peter Rauch anamaria at GRINNELL.BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Feb 17 16:29:38 CST 1999

On Wed, 17 Feb 1999, Petra Sierwald 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.

If they really are new species, and the systematics is good, then
everyone wins, don't they?

>  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).

Now, that sounds like bad taxonomy, whether the motivation is simply to
"be a taxonomist", to "commemorate some personality", or to "cater to
the pet trade".

> 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.

So, there are at least two reasons to be concerned about what motivates
a "taxonomist" to describe new species --money, and "variety"
recognition (which may also be motivated by the prospect of "pet trade"
sales potential.

> I am grateful for this discussion, because as an editor of an arachnology
> journal I will now pay closest attention to the publication of new species
> under such circumstances.  It is here where editors, the reviewers and
> scientific societies must protect the integrity of taxonomy and systematics.
> The selling of names has the potential to destroy systematics. And with
> still too many journals not having proper review procedures in place, this
> danger is real.

But, that state of affairs (not having proper review procedures in
place, but publishing new taxa anyway) exists, and has existed, forever.
It seems that this _the_ problem which needs to be addressed, and not
its surrogate (sales of new taxon names). Sale of names might highlight
the problem, and might even exacerbate it, but bad taxonomy is bad
taxonomy, and rules of nomenclature and/or editorial practices which
allow it to easily occur need to be addressed. Then, "sale" of names
will be carried on legitimately, presumably.

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