[Taxacom] Using the Web for taxonomic research

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Tue Jun 30 00:20:16 CDT 2009

This post relates to Rod Page's fascinating play with Wikipedia, and has a name connection (no more!) with the panbiogeography discussion between the two Michaels.

My revision of the millipede genus Agathodesmus was published in the open access journal ZooKeys two weeks ago, on 18 June. A couple of days later I FTP'ed all the latest classificatory and other details on the two Australian species to the server hosting the Millipedes of Australia (MoA) website. ZooKeys is linked to ZooBank, so ZooBank also had the latest info.

By Monday 22 June a Google search could find two up-to-date sources on Agathodesmus: ZooKeys and ZooBank. The MoA site, which topped the Google list, had 2 out-of-date pages listed (one no longer exists, the other lacks Agathodesmus), but you could find the new Agathodesmus info by going to the Checklist page once you were on the MoA site.

A week later (yesterday) I dipped again into our gigantic external cultural memory to see how 'agathodesmus' was doing. Google still had the old MoA pages, not a problem. But it also showed many sites with out-of-date info, including an apparently authoritative Australian government site to which I added millipedes in 2002, and which is not regularly updated. EOL says the name Agathodesmus exists, as does ZipcodeZoo and the EDIT lists and some name-gathering sites I'd never heard of. Wikipedia seemed to be missing Agathodesmus.

Today I tried searching Google on '2009 agathodesmus' instead of just 'agathodesmus'. Better: the top 6 listings are for MoA (2), ZooBank (2) and ZooKeys (2). Our Zipcode Zoo friends are no. 7 because their page has the copyright date "2004-2009". 8 and 9 are derivative of the Australian government site.

The fascinating one is no. 10, from the Catalog of Life. This gives CoL LSIDs for the genus and its type species, which to me at least makes the site look up to date. However the taxonomy is incorrect. Following a 1980 stab-in-the-dark, CoL puts Agathodesmus in the wrong family, and incidentally in the wrong suborder.

Lesson? Don't expect a Web-crawl-and-harvest to give you up-to-date taxonomy, or even a respectable overview. Just like in the old days, look for the most up-to-date and relevant sources. With luck, patient plodders like me will have put the latest taxonomic results online, but you may have trouble finding those results.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
(03) 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Website: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html

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