[Taxacom] do you use species descriptions?

Chris Thompson xelaalex at cox.net
Thu Feb 24 16:35:13 CST 2011

Andy et alia:

As other have already stated, the original description needs to be 
critically examined for NOMENCLATURAL information.

But as was recognized by Phil Darlington more than a half century ago, if a 
person wants TAXONOMIC / Character information they will always go first to 
voucher or type specimens.

So, Phil made a pragmatic recommendation that virtually everyone ignores. 
Phil said when his series was long, he made his descriptions short and 
distributed his paratypes widely!

So, if you want your species understood, then given long series, distribute 
your paratypes widely.


Chris Thompson
from home

-----Original Message----- 
From: "Peter A. Schäfer"
Sent: Thursday, February 24, 2011 1:44 PM
To: Andy Deans ; Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] do you use species descriptions?

yes I do read species descriptions (of plants) as I try to find out
which of our specimens (mostly pre-1958) are types. Before that date
indication of type was not necessary in Botany and most botanists
-starting with Linnaeus- would not write "type" on any specimen label/sheet.

Best wishes
Peter (MPU)

On 24/02/2011 19:22, Andy Deans wrote:
> I guess a perhaps somewhat loaded follow-up question, related to your 
> response, Fred, would be: How many taxonomists actually read or use 
> original descriptions?
> Most of the species I work on (Hymenoptera: Evaniidae) were described 
> ante-1911, in French and German - languages I struggle to accurately 
> interpret. When I do translate the descriptions they are relatively 
> uninformative or even inaccurate, especially when I can simply borrow the 
> type specimens and observe them directly. So I am now in the habit of 
> largely ignoring the original description, in favor of direct observation 
> and imaging. Several colleagues of mine have similar habits.
> Another colleague, however, spends *hours* reading the original 
> descriptions of his taxon of interest - the species of which were mostly 
> described post-1950.
> Maybe species descriptions have improved over time, but how many of you 
> regularly use descriptions, even "modern" ones, to confirm determinations 
> or otherwise understand the species?
> Just curious. For the record I *strongly* believe that textual 
> descriptions are critical to the taxonomic process. Thanks for the replies 
> so far,
> Andy


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