synonymies and 'truly' scientific names

Mon Sep 8 12:01:02 CDT 2003

While the arrows created by Licher (1999), or similar
symbols, would have the advantage of saving some printing
space, they have distinct disadvantages:
a) they may not be identically reproducible under all
circumstances of publishing used around the world,
b) they are not intuitively understandable to everybody and,
given that zoologists can't agree to act as a 'community'
in more critical matters, would never become standard,
at least not for a long time. Consequently, the explanations
such symbols require will, depending on the length of a
publication, consume some or more of the space they could
help save.

On the other hand, conventions like the botanists have used -
e.g. as pointed out by Karen Wilson - have the slight
disadvantage (but doesn't everything have an up AND a
down side?) that they take more space. However, in my
opinion this is far outweighed by the advantage - not shared
by symbols such as Licher's arrows - that they can be made
self-explanatory and thus immediately understandable to and
reproducible by everybody. (In the latter respect, they might
be improved still by translating expressions from Latin such
as "exul auct. non" in Karen Wilson's example. Personally
I have no problem with them, but others do, and Latin terms
are not intrinsically better than, e.g., English ones.)

There is another issue here in which zoology - not just its
nomenclature - would benefit from following the botanists'
example (by the way, I am not a botanist):
There are many taxa whose scientific name in use is that
given by an early describer. For an example from my own
field of work, Chironomus plumosus (L., 1758) is the name
everybody uses for the type species of the type genus of the
family Chironomidae (Insecta Diptera). However, nobody
knows what biological species Linnaeus had before him,
because nobody has yet bothered to study his original
material known to have been preserved all those centuries.
Instead, the name is being used as if everybody knew the
species even without reference to a scientific standard for it.
The latter is not the case, the species is very widely spread
under diverse conditions, and conspecificity of all material
reported under this one name is both an illusion and a
misrepresentation of the scientific facts (or rather, in this and
similar cases, non-facts).

Consequently, it would be more scientifically correct and,
I believe, in the interest of everybody involved if zoologists
adopted the botanists' system of quoting not only the earliest
author of a name, but also the interpreter upon whose later
work (and specimens !) an author is basing his own use
of the name. If an author has not himself studied the type
material, nor found a reference whose author has done so,
quotation of the species name should reflect this by looking
like, e.g., Chironomus plumosus (L., 1758) sensu Edw. (1929).

(For all ye nomenclature buffs, the International Code of
Zoological Nomenclature allows such citations - e.g. see
ICZN 1999: Article 51.2.1. - but does not mandate them
at this time.)

This way, if at a later time different author's interpretations
of a name are found to represent different species, all
secondary and tertiary literature based on any given
interpretation could be very easily backtracked. But it's
really only elementary scientific method to disclose
one's sources, and state what is not known as well as
what is known. Therefore, I see no good reason why
many zoologists forego a level of precision here that has
surely been helpful rather than a hindrance to botany.

Best regards

Martin Spies
c/o Zoologische Staatssammlung Muenchen

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