unique numbers for species [was critter names]

Derek Sikes dss95002 at UCONNVM.UCONN.EDU
Thu Oct 11 11:32:45 CDT 2001

Re: assignment of a unique number to each original combination

I second the opinion of Doug.  Admitting that Margaret's solution has
definite advantages, it does seem difficult to imagine it solving the
problem that Doug described- that of curatorial management of thousands of
names, often outside one's expertise.

I have repeatedly found myself wishing there was something FIXED about each
species that could be presented along with its ever changing bionomial.  Too
often I have found a name on an old specimen or paper that no longer exists
in that combination.  Normally this isn't a problem, but when the epithet is
very common, like 'virginicus' or 'americanus' and the author of the name
(if I'm lucky enough to find it on the det label) has described a dozen or
more species in that family with the same epithet... I would need a detailed
history of each original combination- a complete bibliographic synonymy,
just to determine to what species the author/determiner was referring.

[one solution I sometimes employ is phylogenetic relatedness- a risky
method, but if the dozen identical epithets show an obvious phylogenetic
pattern, e.g. all but one are in one subfamily and the remaining is in
another subfamily, the association can be guessed... but trying to associate
names with species in this manner is both painful and an embarrassment to
our 'advanced' nomenclatorial system; not to mention that radical higher
classification changes can make this solution too risky.]

The Nomina series couldn't begin to provide this sort of information- I'm
guessing a complete bibliographic synonymy would entail a 100-300+ page
volume for every group of around 100 species- and even a small museum with a
local collection deals with tens of thousands of species.

If we could assign arbitrary, unique numbers to every original combination
(I suppose synonymies would involve combining these numbers; such that if
species 10 is a new syn. of species 11 then the number of species 11 would
become [11,10] etc. ) then this problem would at least be reduced for the
taxonomists of the future working with our determinations of today.  This,
as Doug suggested, supplementary system would in no way replace binomials,
which could continue to change as rapidly as they do now, but having a
single, web accessible database of original combinations and their unique
numbers - allowing EVERYONE on the globe to assign those numbers in their
own databases, catalogs, etc. would make life easier for all, no?

Of course this database of original combinations could then be easily linked
to databases of their type depositories (run by each museum individually)
and citations... ignoring ALL synonym decisions (which change too
frequently) at this basic level of organization - just a master list of
original combinations and their numbers.  We can dream, can't we?


Derek Sikes
Dept. of Ecology and Evol. Biology U-43
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269  USA

FAX: 860-486-6364

dss95002 at uconnvm.uconn.edu

..I confess I often feel wearied with the work, and cannot help
sometimes asking myself what is the good of spending a week or a fortnight
in ascertaining that certain just perceptible differences
blend together and constitute varieties and not species...What
miserable work, again, it is searching for priority of names.
- Charles Darwin

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