[Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Sat Aug 23 20:16:36 CDT 2014

Hi Rich,
I suspect your hypothetical "tough call" is actually the usual case, and that a great many published mentions of "Aus bus" may refer to two or more species, without there being an easy (or even any) way to tell which species. There must be many cases of misidentifications where the material either no longer exists or fails to be diagnostic, or nobody is going to bother to track it down. Some data is just best ignored. This also applies, IMHO, to most mueum database data for taxa that aren't currently under active research.

On Sun, 24/8/14, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:

 Subject: RE: [Taxacom] Chameleons, GBIF, and the Red List
 To: "'Stephen Thorpe'" <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>, "'TAXACOM'" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Received: Sunday, 24 August, 2014, 5:54 AM
 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
 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
 in genus Aus)
 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
 > 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
 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
 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
 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
 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
 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
 size or something) that allows us to
 make an educated guess as to which of
 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
 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
 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
 available at the source (specimen, photo, literature
 Let me know if this needs further
 > On Sat, 23/8/14, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>
 >  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
 >  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
 > 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
 > coordinates are either missing
 or  wrong.  This one could be improved
 > through various  georeferencing
 algorithms and tools and/or  crowd-
 >  taxonomy also comes in two basic
 >  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
 > which the
 organism was  identified, but the name is not consistent
 > "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

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