[Taxacom] How to refer to unplaced taxa
Grove, Simon (DEDTA)
Simon.Grove at tmag.tas.gov.au
Mon Mar 11 18:54:20 CDT 2013
Here's a somewhat more mundane posting for Taxacom, but one I hope that others will be able to help me with:
I'm often in the position of wanting to add records to our museum collections database of specimens or accessions that haven't been identified to the level of species. There are lots of different reasons for them not having a species assignation. Sometimes it's because the species is apparently undescribed, but sometimes it's just that none of us has had the time or ability to determine the specimen(s) to this level of taxonomic resolution, but we have at least determined its family, or perhaps even its genus. And on other occasions, the sample/accession contains representatives of more than one taxon. Rather than leaving these specimens undatabased, we would like to have some standard ways of referring to them, pending their assignation to taxa with full species binomials.
I've been toying with various words to apply to these taxa and would appreciate some feedback.
* If I know the genus but haven't ascertained the species, I'm inclined to database the specimen as, for example, 'Quedius species'. I would do this whether the reason for not knowing the species was because I hadn't yet tried hard enough or because it was an undescribed species. However, it the undescribed species had been given a collection-wide code-name (i.e. it was a 'known unknown'), then I would be inclined to use that name instead, e.g. 'Quedius TFIC sp 07'. I'm inclined to avoid using the terms 'aff.' and 'cf.', - for example 'Quedius sp. aff. sydneyensis', if only because they can be applied rather loosely and I'm not sure that other experts not involved in assigning them can be expected to trust them.
* If I don't even know the genus but know something about its higher classification, I'm inclined to use a pseudo-binomial that combines this taxonomic resolution with the word 'unplaced' instead of 'species', for example 'Staphylininae unplaced', or 'Coleoptera unplaced'.
* If the accession seems likely to contain a mix of taxa, I'm inclined to use a pseudo-binomial that couples the name for the lowest common denominator in the taxonomic hierarchy with the word 'undifferentiated', for example 'Coleoptera undifferentiated', or 'Insecta undifferentiated' (and let's not get into a discussion here about whether 'Insecta' is a valid taxon!).
Does this make sense? Are there any better systems out there? I appreciate that others may use the word 'species' in each of these scenarios, but that ultimately conveys less information, or could confuse non-taxonomists into thinking that a taxon such as 'Coleoptera' is of the same (specific) rank as, say, Quedius. On the other hand, even the word 'species' is ambiguous because it could refer to either one or many species, since its plural form is the same as its singular form. In that case, maybe always using the abbreviations 'sp.' and 'spp.' would be preferable to reduce ambiguity? And then there's the issue that using words such as 'unplaced' and 'undifferentiated' in binomials really only makes sense to English-speakers, whereas scientific names are meant to be universal.
Dr Simon Grove
Senior Curator, Invertebrate Zoology
Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery
GPO Box 1164, Hobart 7001 / 5 Winkleigh Place , Rosny 7018
Phone 61 3 6211 4124
Personal mobile (not paid by TMAG) 0498 318710
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