unique numbers for species

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Thu Oct 11 14:52:21 CDT 2001

Markku Savela wrote:

>Why numbers? Why not just use the "the unique identifier" which
>already exists: the original published name with author and year.
>For example, the unique id of the current _Danaus plexippus_ is
>  "Papilio plexippus Linnaeus, 1758"

In addition to what Robin panza pointed out, there's also problems
like the following:

Rhopalophora cupricollis Guérin-Méneville 1844


Rhopalophora cupricollis Guerin 1845


Clytus marginicollis Laporte & Gory 1835


Clytus marginicollis Castelneau & Gory 1835

*We* may recognize that those pairs are the same, but will a
computer? Those "unique" identifiers (extracted straight from the
literature), after all, list different authors and/or different years
- but will the computer KNOW that there are frequently discrepancies
in the literature regarding when a name was actually published, and
regarding how an author should be referred to? I also would suspect
that - for all the worry over transposition and typos - that people
are more likely to mis-type a long name PLUS author PLUS year than a
single 8-digit number.

And. in case you think that even the above examples could be resolved
by better programming, what about these:

Ochodaeus Serville 1825


Ochodaeus Lepeletier & Serville 1828


Polycesta Solier 1833


Polycesta Serville in Dejean 1833

Are those the same taxon? (I'd actually like to know, incidentally -
I don't know which is correct in either case).

Nomenclatural work CANNOT be converted into a simple algorithm.

Eric Dunbar wrote:

>I suppose the most difficult aspect to all of this is creating and funding
>an organisation (or modifying an existing one) to oversee such a registry.

There is already an organization, called the "All Species Foundation"
(www.all-species.org), *independently* funded, with the ostensible
goal of developing a catalog of all the world's species. You just
have to convince THEM to act as a master registry. It's a perfectly
logical, simple extension of their mission statement. I doubt they'd
go for the idea (since the ICZN voted down name registration), though
it would certainly be nice if they'd at least *consider* it -
however, to date (after over a year since its formal inception) they
haven't even set an agenda. I don't know if anyone on Taxacom is on
their advisory board, but maybe a registry of names should be
something put on the table when they finally do sit down to make a

This relates to Richard Pyle's comment:

>I share your pain....but I don't think we necessarily need to be thinking
>about our own hard drives here. In theory, the internet should allow us to
>use an authority file stored on a hard disk half-way around the world as a
>direct, real-time authority for our local needs.  Conceivably, if the master
>authority is stored on a $upercomputer with ultra-fast internet access, (and
>assuming most taxonomists and curators have access to a reasonably fast
>internet connection) then it can pump the data we need to us even faster
>than our own single-processor desktops could with the data resident on a
>local hard drive. Maybe internet technology isn't quite "there" yet -- but I
>imagine it will be soon (likely sooner than it will take to gain widespread
>acceptance among the taxonomic community for universal registration of taxon

The problem is that you (and I) are explicitly envisioning a single
master authority file. We have the technlogy NOW to do remote
look-ups, but we've got multiple online authority files (for example,
if you ask about a North American species of Asilid fly, there are
the Nomina, the CDWD, and Fritz Geller-Grimm's list, at least), and
they each may refer to the same taxon differently. So, which name
does your little remote look-up software feed back to you when
there's a discrepancy in classifications? Remote look-ups, therefore,
will require a SINGLE standard listing, as Richard indicates, but we
are a very long way from agreeing on such a thing. The Tree of Life
project, for example, hoped to get there, but relies on volunteers.
Accordingly, that project likely won't ever see completion - unless
it gets the kind of no-strings-attached funding that allspecies.org
has at its disposal. There's yet another thing the latter
organization might consider: come to the rescue of the Tree of Life
folks, and tap into their expertise, rather than starting from
scratch. What we need more than anything is cooperation, if for no
other reason than avoiding the constant proverbial re-invention of
the wheel.

On we go,

Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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