[Taxacom] Why stability?

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Thu Apr 30 16:57:27 CDT 2015

Hi Stephen,

I'm very confused about your statements on this thread. This issue is not
about "basing specimen identifications on publications", as you seem to keep
coming back to.  This thread is about more explicitly representing taxon
names in the context of a taxon concept.  Specimen identifications are
certainly one aspect of taxonomy where this practice is valuable, but it
applies more generally to *any* references to taxon names.

Let's start with your example of Homo sapiens.  Yes Linnaeus initially
established the name, and when he did so he had in mind a taxonomic
circumscription of organisms to which he would apply that name to.  We could
make a citation to "Homo sapiens Linnaeus 1758 sensu Linneaus 1758"; but as
you say his description was wanting; and indeed, his circumscription may not
perfectly coincide with the concept of "Homo sapiens" that a modern
taxonomist would like to refer to (e.g., many more species of Homo and
related genera were established from fossil material after Linnaeus, so it's
not clear which of these Linnaeus would have included in his
circumscription).  So, you could certainly refer to "Homo sapiens Linnaeus
1758 sensu Linneaus 1758"; but I doubt most modern researchers would do so.

Instead, a better citation might be something like "Homo sapiens Linnaeus
1758 sensu Wilson & Reeder 2005".  This circumscription included a number of
synonyms within it (see:
which gives us a somewhat more precise idea of the set of organisms implied
by the name "Homo sapiens".

You also made reference to many species that need to be identified, but for
which only one or a few old taxonomic works are available.  I don't
disagree.  But I'm not sure what your point is about why this has any impact
on the practice of consistently citing "sensu" references.

Let's take the example of "Aus bus Smith 1850".  Let's suppose not a single
published work ever cited this name since its original description, in any
context whatsoever. Fair enough -- there are likely many such names out

Now, in 2015, you come across a specimen in a Museum that you feel confident
is conspecific with the type specimen Smith 1850 assigned to the species
"Aus bus".  Are you saying that you might possibly have a different taxon
concept in mind than when Smith 1850 first established the name?  If so,
then what is this difference based on? Keep in mind that no one has ever
published any reference to this species since Smith's original publication.
Yet somehow you ae confident that the taxon concept that you wish to ascribe
to the name "Aus bus" is different from the concept implied by Smith in his
original 1850 publication.

I certainly agree this situation is possible (especially for taxonomists who
are actively working on a major revision of a group, and have looked at
thousands of specimens, etc.)  But I don't think it's quite as common a
situation as you make it out to be.  And even in these cases, there is
nothing stopping you from declaring it as "Aus bus Smith 1850 sensu Thorpe
2015".  There is no requirement that the information following the "sensu"
must be citation to a publication.  The purpose is just to anchor the name
to a particular usage of that name, to give some greater clarity for what
taxon concept is implied by that particular usage of the name.  Granted, it
makes a LOT more sense, to cite a publication, if and when one is available
-- because that means everyone has access to it (only a limited number of
people have access to the content inside Stephen Thorpe's brain...)

One more point -- in these cases where there have been few, if any
subsequent treatments of a particular name, the need to pin down a usage of
a name to one particular concept is much lower, because there is much less
potential confusion about what concept is implied.  The importance of the
"sensu" qualifier is increasingly important in cases where there ARE
multiple competing concepts for a name (some stricto, some lato, etc.). If
there are multiple competing concepts, then there are likely to be
publications attached to alternate circumscriptions.

So, it's sort of a nice self-correcting situation:  Cases with the fewest
options for citing as "sensu" also have the least need for it.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz]
> Sent: Thursday, April 30, 2015 11:24 AM
> To: 'JF Mate'; 'Taxacom'; deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
> Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Why stability?
> Rich,
> I suspect that you have already invested too much time and effort in this
> "sensu" (or "sec") notion to want to backtrack now, but some of what is
> said on the subject just isn't true! There are a great many species, which
> routinely identified for various purposes, but for which there is no
> upon which the IDs are based. That is an undeniable fact, like it or not!
Even in
> botany this is true. Botanists here routinely identify exotic plants
growing in
> cultivation in gardens and parks, and there are often no modern taxonomic
> treatments of the species concerned. If one were to adopt a "sensu" or
> system across the board, it would add greatly to complexity, while adding
> or nothing of any use. It might get a few more citations for a few more
> taxonomic publications, but that's about it, and I don't care about that.
> publication do you suggest that we cite for identification of Homo
> Linnaeus' original description is  pretty useless.
> Stephen
> --------------------------------------------
> On Fri, 1/5/15, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:
>  Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Why stability?
>  To: "'JF Mate'" <aphodiinaemate at gmail.com>, "'Taxacom'"
> <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
>  Received: Friday, 1 May, 2015, 6:05 AM
>  Errr.... yeah.  What he
>  said.
>  Rich
>  > -----Original
>  Message-----
>  > From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu]
>  On Behalf Of
>  > JF Mate
>  > Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 3:15 PM  > To: Taxacom  > Subject:
>  Re: [Taxacom] Why stability?
>  >
>  > 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
> I.D. label and the  year  > you tell others more or less at  what stage of
> experience you where 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
> 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
> 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 accurate.
>  >
>  > Jason
>  >
>  > 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 a  >
> nomenclatural matter. Zoology treats them (almost entirely)  as taxonomic.
> The  > "reference used  for the identification" is another matter
>  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
> the local fauna, rather  than by way of a specific publication.
>  >
>  Many 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?
>  >
>  >  To: "JF Mate" <aphodiinaemate at gmail.com>,  "Taxacom"
>  > > <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
>  > >  Received: Thursday, 30 April, 2015,
>  10:51 AM
>  > >
>  >
>  >  IMO. It is not the lack
>  > >
>  of a catchy name that has prevented the practice of citing  the  > >
> used for  identification in giving a scientific  name but the  > >
insistence by
> taxonomists that one  should cite  the original author(s)  >  > of the
> and that this  provides accuracy of  interpretation.
>  > > It was not until
>  the  Vienna Botanical Congress of 2005 (or  > > thereabouts) that the 
> 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 if  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  >  > such).
>  > >  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
> 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  scientific names should  > > be
> We should not be  surprised  if it takes a similar length of  > > time to
> the practice.
>  > >  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
>  > >
>  > >
>  > >
>  > >
>  > >
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