[Taxacom] Why stability?

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Thu Apr 30 01:22:26 CDT 2015

The vast majority of species names are associated with just one circumscription (=concept = taxonomic schema). This might not seem to be the case from the point of view of botany, but given that most species in the world are invertebrate animals (and possibly bacteria), it is still true overall. Hence, there is a danger in increasing complexity across the board, just to make a minority of cases easier to deal with. Also, Alan's rationale has a flaw in it: if a species circumscription was once broader than it is now, then it doesn't help much to know that a specimen was identified historically as C=A+B, because you still have to reidentify the specimen to determine if it is A or B according to the current taxonomy. It only works the other way around, but that is just called "synonymy"!


On Thu, 30/4/15, Weakley, Alan <weakley at bio.unc.edu> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Why stability?
 To: "JF Mate" <aphodiinaemate at gmail.com>, "Taxacom" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 Received: Thursday, 30 April, 2015, 2:22 PM
 In museums/herbaria,
 papers, checklists, databases, etc. -- essentially all uses
 of specimen or observation data -- it is critical to know
 the taxonomic schema being employed.  IF (in any of those
 contexts) it is stated "Andropogon virginicus
 Linnaeus" (which is actually no more meaningful in
 taxonomic practice than "Andropogon virginicus",
 because there is no other nomenclatural author of
 "Andropogon virginicus" than Linnaeus), there is
 great ambiguity as to the meaning.  Citing sensu (or sec) a
 particular flora or monograph is IMMENSELY helpful
 (example:  sec Chris Campbell in Flora of North America
 2007).  The specimen or observation might still be
 misidentified, but at least one knows what the identifier
 was trying to identify it to:  A, or A+B+C, or A+B+C+D+E+F,
 or A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H, or A+B+G+H (the type is within the
 concept of A).  Without the 'sensu' or
 'sec', we are left with (mostly fruitless)
 conjecture about sensu strictissimo, sensu stricto, sensu
 lato, or sensu latissimo.  Or the prospect of just
 degrading all the information to the broadest possibility. 
 In our herbarium we encourage use of the sec or sensu, and
 many collectors do.  It will save a lot of fruitless
 time-wasting we in this community can't afford, of the
 kind of "well, in 1947 when Bob Godfrey labeled a
 specimen Andropogon virginicus, did he mean A or one of the
 other broader combinations of what we now recognize as 10 or
 11 separate taxa, and if so which of those combinations did
 he mean?  Can we figure out his taxonomic concepts then by
 looking at all his Andropogon specimens from that year,
 and/or the paper he published in 1953, or the letter to his
 wife?  Or should we just assume we can know nothing and
 just re-identify all 10,000 Andropogon specimens in the
 Southeastern United States, because all past IDs have no
 secure meaning?  Wouldn't it be simpler if he had put
 on the label "Andropogon virginicus L., sensu Small
 This is of course the reason data aggregation
 is so difficult and some of the attempts so frustrating. 
 The usefulness of data aggregation can withstand the
 occasional misidentification (and these may stand out in
 various ways and can then be corrected) -- a great example
 is the CalFlora webpage which highlights records that
 "seem odd".  The usefulness of data aggregation
 cannot withstand pulling information together and attaching
 it to the name "Andropogon virginicus" when some
 of the data means Andropogon virginicus "A" and
 some of it means Andropogon "A+B+C+D+E+G+H" (and
 some of it some of the other schemas).  Then the aggregated
 data distort the truth about each one of A, B, C, D, E, F,
 G, and H.  
 -----Original Message-----
 From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu]
 On Behalf Of JF Mate
 Sent: Wednesday, April
 29, 2015 9:37 PM
 To: Taxacom
 Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Why stability?
 "Hence there is no
 publication to cite for the identification."
 Here is the kernel of
 inaccuracy. I have (and I suspect most people in Taxacom do
 as well, either in cellulose or digital) a large collection
 of things called books which are called upo as our external
 brain hard-driveI. No just for Europe or North America, poor
 in species as they may be, but for many areas in the world.
 There are many groups without modern keys, I grant you that,
 but when keys are available, citing them is a useful for
 those who will come after. In fact NZ has a number of modern
 keys covering many Coleoptera groups (can´t comment on what
 I don´t know). Are you tellng me you don´t use them?
 On 30 April 2015 at 03:21,
 Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 > Sorry Jason, but I was not
 incorrect! As I said, many (perhaps most) species are not
 identifiable from the literature. Most insect IDs (at least
 in this country) are done by somebody directly comparing
 specimens to already identified specimens in collections.
 Typically, the only thing published is a useless original
 description from the 1800s or something. Hence there is no
 publication to cite for the identification.
 "Experience" enters the issue because the result
 of comparing specimens depends on the experience of the
 person doing the comparison, i.e. a newbee will typically
 make lots of mistakes.
 > Stephen
 > On Thu, 30/4/15, JF Mate <aphodiinaemate at gmail.com>
 >  Subject:
 Re: [Taxacom] Why stability?
 >  To:
 "Taxacom" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
 >  Received: Thursday, 30 April, 2015, 1:15
 >  Sorry Stephen
 but this is
 >  incorrect. Everybody´s
 "experience" is a  combination of actual 
 > experience (burning the  midnight oil
 comparing  own material against  
 identified specimens in a museum or advice from  colleagues
 or mentors 
 > that we have internalised 
 and made our own for
 >  example) and
 >  literature. By putting your name on the
 I.D. label and  the year you 
 > tell
 others more or less at what  stage of your experience  you
 > at when  you attached the
 label. The "sec" is to indicate  on  which 
 > authors you rely on (let´s face  it,
 nobody is an expert in every  
 > group).
 For  example, in Europe if you work on scarabs you rely
 > Baraud and Balthasar most of the
 time. In 50  years we may have  
 different ones but it  would be helpful to know which one
 you owned or  
 > used most often or a
 that time. As a practical  example think of  
 > Aphodius fimetarius. Since
 >  2001 I write "sensu Wilson
 2001" to make it  clear that the concept I 
 > am using acknowledges  the specific 
 distinctiveness of pedellus.
 >  As to citing the authority, I
 >  see it as part of the binomial. It
 makes  communication more 
 >  On 30
 April 2015 at 01:15, Stephen Thorpe  
 <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>
 >  wrote:
 >  > What
 Mary said is, IMHO,
 >  somewhat mixed up
 and confused! One should cite the authors  of the 
 > original combination primarily for
 nomenclatural (not  taxonomic 
 reasons). Botany confuses the issue by making  combinations
 > nomenclatural matter. Zoology treats
 them  (almost entirely) as 
 > taxonomic.
 The "reference used for  the identification" is
 > matter altogether. Most  IDs
 published in ecological studies are done 
 > by people  ("experts"), who,
 like myself, identify taxa based  more on 
 > experience/memory with relevant
 collections and  familiarity with the 
 local fauna, rather than by way of a  specific publication.
 > species can only be identified
 by  a historical chain of IDs, 
 hopefully involving comparision  to the type at some stage
 along the 
 > way. They cannot be 
 identified from the literature.
 >  > Stephen
 >  >
 >  >
 >  >
 >  > On Thu, 30/4/15, Mary Barkworth
 <Mary.Barkworth at usu.edu>
 >  wrote:
 >  >
 >  >  Subject:
 Re: [Taxacom] Why stability?
 >  > 
 >  "JF Mate" <aphodiinaemate at gmail.com>, 
 > <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> 
 >  Received: Thursday, 30 April, 2015,
 >  10:51 AM
 >  >
 >  >  IMO. It
 >  is
 not the lack
 >  >  of a catchy name
 >  has prevented the practice of
 >  >
 the reference used for identification in giving a 
 scientific  >  
 > name but the
 insistence by  taxonomists that one should cite  > 
 > original author(s) of the
 combination and that this  >  provides 
 > accuracy of interpretation. It  was not
 until the  >  Vienna Botanical  
 Congress of 2005 (or thereabouts) that the  >  wording
 the botanical 
 > code read "In 
 publications,  >  particularly those  dealing with 
 > taxonomy and nomenclature,  >  it
 **may** be desirable, even when no  
 bibliographic  >  reference to the  protologue is
 made, to cite the 
 > author(s)  > 
 of the name concerned ...". Before  that it read as
 > >  one always had to  cite
 the authors - and all journal and  >  book 
 > editors wanted the works they  published
 seen to be good  >  science 
 > so 
 they required citation of the original authors  >  and
 people that 
 > became faculty said it 
 was necessary too.
 >  >
 >  >  So we have to change a culture.
 That  is  >  always difficult.  I 
 > have been  told I do not understand 
 >  nomenclature  for  arguing 
 that one should cite the  >  reference used to
 determine the name (a  
 > flora or some
 >  >  The objections
 >  that I have heard are that someone is
 simply  >  using the name they 
 were told by someone  else or that they  >  know the
 plant so  well 
 > they do not know
 whether it has ever  >  had another concept, or that
 > they are  using the concept they 
 >  have  developed.
 >  >  One
 reason I like the
 >  >  Symbiota
 data entry form is that it  provides for citing the 
 > reference  used (although
 perhaps it should be visible by  >  
 > default?) but taxonomists have spent 
 decades convincing  >  people 
 that, to be  good science, the original authors of  > 
 > names should be cited. We
 should not be  surprised  >  if it takes a 
 > similar  length of time to change the
 >  >  Do those of you that
 are journal editors  ask for information  >  
 > as to the  reference used for an
 identification or for the  >  
 original authors of the combination.
 >  Mary
 >  >
 >  >
 >  >
 >  >
 >  >
 >  >  Taxacom Mailing List
 >  >  Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 >  >  http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/taxacom
 >  >  The Taxacom Archive back to 1992
 may  be  >  searched at: 
 > http://taxacom.markmail.org  > 
 >  Celebrating 28  years of  >  
 > Taxacom in 2015.
 >  >
 >  Taxacom Mailing List
 >  Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.eduhttp://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/taxacom
 >  The Taxacom Archive back to 1992 may
 be  searched at: 
 > http://taxacom.markmail.org
 >  Celebrating 28
 years of
 >  Taxacom in 2015.
 Taxacom Mailing List
 Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 The Taxacom Archive back to 1992 may be
 searched at: http://taxacom.markmail.org
 Celebrating 28 years of
 Taxacom in 2015.
 Taxacom Mailing List
 Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 The Taxacom Archive back to 1992 may be
 searched at: http://taxacom.markmail.org
 Celebrating 28 years of
 Taxacom in 2015.

More information about the Taxacom mailing list