[Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Sat Aug 23 12:54:34 CDT 2014

Hi Stephen,

> And what happens when an old name is now split into two or more taxa? For
> example, "cryptic species". 

In terms of name translation (my category 2b below), it's easy:

Aus bus L. is split by Jones into Aus bus L. and Aus cus Jones.  We have
three species-level TNUs and two species-level protonyms:
- bus (Protonym, within L. publication, spelled "bus", treated as valid
species in genus Aus)
- bus (Subsequent use, within Jones publication, spelled "bus", treated as a
valid species in genus Aus)
- cus (Protonym, within Jones publication, spelled "cus", treated as a valid
species in genus Aus)

A Meta-Authority who is inclined towards supporting the split would select
the two Jones TNUs to represent the accepted status of the two Protonyms.

A Meta-Authority who is inclined towards rejecting the split would select a
TNU for bus and cus by an author who treated the latter as a junior synonym
of the former. 

> What value/status does data have which is
> associated with pre-split concepts? A name, Aus bus, could refer either to
> species complex before a split. or to one and only one of the cryptic
> after the split. What if some modern workers reject the split?

This falls into my category 2a (below): organism identifications.  The
"data" you refer to applies to actual, physical organisms, and those
organisms had some taxonomic identity, and could be re-identified.  I'll use
our Checklist paper as an example.

Suppose Smith, who published prior to Jones, reported Aus bus at Laysan
Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The "data" in this case is the
assertion that Aus bus occurs at Laysan. In our evidence-based checklist
model, we would establish an Occurrence of an organism at Laysan, and the
evidence of that Occurrence would be the Smith publication.  This Organism
would have an Identification of "Aus bus" credited to Smith at the time
Smith published his report.

We, as the expert authors of the Checklist of the fishes of the Northwestern
Hawaiian Islands, decide that we're following Jones in recognizing Aus bus
L. and Aus cus Jones as distinct species. Now we must make a determination
as to the taxonomic identity of the organism that Smith reported from
Laysan.  If both species occur in the Hawaiian Islands, we'd have a tough
call as to which taxon to apply to the "data" (occurrence at Midway).
Perhaps there is some additional information that Smith might have reported
(e.g., depth, or an illustration that shows the diagnostic character, or the
size or something) that allows us to make an educated guess as to which of
the two species Smith had.  In other cases -- for example if Aus bus is only
known from the Indian Ocean, and Aus cus is the Pacific sister species, we
can have much more confidence in which taxon to apply to the organism that
Smith reported from Laysan.

Organisms have potentially many identifications.  In the same way that a
specimen in a Museum can be re-identified by different people at different
times, so, too, can any organism.  Thus, we (the authors of the Checklist)
are now at liberty to assign a new identification to the organism that Smith
reported from Laysan.  If we are confident that we can infer this organism
was Aus bus, we will assert a new identification as such on that same
organism.  Likewise if we are confident that the organism was Aus cus.  If
we are not confident as to its taxonomic identity, then we re-identify it as
"Aus sp."

This is why I split the two kinds of taxonomic problems into "a"
(misidentifications) and "b" (taxonomic changes).  The latter is addressed
by taxonomic translation services.  The former requires re-evaluation of
information available at the source (specimen, photo, literature report,

Let me know if this needs further elaboration.


> --------------------------------------------
> On Sat, 23/8/14, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:
>  Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List
>  To: "'TAXACOM'" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
>  Received: Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 5:06 AM
>  I have not followed this
>  thread closely, but it seems to me that the main problems  people
> about regarding data harvested by  aggregators like GBIF fall into two
> categories:
>  1) The indicated geographic location is bad
>  2) The indicated taxon is bad
>  Bad geography comes in two
>  basic forms:
>  a) The stated geographic place
>  is not correct.  This could be due to bad original data or  bad
digitization, but
> there is generally no way to fix this  other than fixing it at the source.
>  b) The stated geographic place is correct, but  the associated lat/long
> coordinates are either missing or  wrong.  This one could be improved
> through various  georeferencing algorithms and tools and/or  crowd-
> sourcing.
>  Bad
>  taxonomy also comes in two basic forms:
>  a)
>  The organism was misidentified. Again, there is no real way  to fix this
> than to fix it at the source.  Sometimes  a reasonable inference can be
> by a good taxonomist, but  that always comes with risks.
>  b) The name used to represent the organism was  "correct" in the context
> which the organism was  identified, but the name is not consistent with
> "modern" representations of "accepted"
>  taxonomy.  There are many reasons for this, such as  abbreviated or
> misspelled names, names that are objectively  unavailable via the relevant
> Code (e.g., not validly  published), names that are now widely regarded as
> heterotypic synonyms of other names, names that are  classified in a
> different genus from what modern taxonomists  follow, and text-strings
> are really not representative  of Linnean-style scientific names at all.


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