[Taxacom] Why stability?

Gaurav Vaidya gaurav at ggvaidya.com
Thu Apr 30 17:53:55 CDT 2015

Hi Stephen,

> On 30 Apr 2015, at 4:27 pm, Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz> wrote:
> I think your confusion may stem from not keeping in mind the dialectic context in which I made my comments. I was responding to others who had suggested that authors should always cite the publication used for the identification of any species that they mention. Basically, their motivation is probably merely to increase citation rates in taxonomy. My comment was intended to point out that, in a great many cases, identifications are not made using any specific publication, even identifications down to the species level. Many names do not have any well defined "taxonomic concepts" associated with them, but may nevertheless be names for distinctive species which are easily identified by direct comparison of specimens (given a bit of experience with the group). For something of an example, I'm sure you can recognise a giraffe if you see one, but you probably cannot point to any well defined "taxonomic concept" (or, if you can, you didn't rely on it to make
> the identification).

Sure you can! Rich gave an excellent example earlier: the Mammal Species of the World, 3rd Edition (MSW3) checklist, which gives you a simple definition of a giraffe relative to other closely related taxa that you can work with.

> In many cases, identifications may be based on a very complex set of things, including several publications and specimens examined, which would not be easy or even possible to spell out as "sensu ..." or "sec ..." Sometimes, for example, one does use a publication to identify a specimen, but the key may give a different result to the description, and both may give a different result to comparing a specimen with the illustrations in the publication. Identification is more of a "wholistic" thing, taking into account all available evidence. Also, your idea of citing something like "sensu Person who identified it for me" wouldn't count for citation metrics, so really isn't what this dialectic was originally about.

The point here isn’t how the identification comes about, but what name is being attached to it. It absolutely takes a huge amount of skill and knowledge to identify an individual as a giraffe, particularly if you don’t have a whole animal to look at. But when you make an identification (“voucher #ABC123 is _Giraffa camelopardalis_ (Linnaeus, 1758)”), the question becomes: what do you mean by “Giraffa camelopardalis” in this context? For example, do you agree with Thomas (1901: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/35988584) that _G. camelopardalis reticulata_ should be treated as a separate species, or with the modern view that it is a subspecies of _camelopardalis_? If at some future date _reticulata_ is split back out of _camelopardalis_, should voucher #ABC123 provisionally remain with _camelopardalis_ sensu stricto, or should it be marked as “_camelopardalis_ or _reticulata_” until it can be reidentified? One way of doing this is to add “sensu MSW3”, which makes it explicit that you’re thinking of the _camelopardalis_ that includes _reticulata_ (http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/browse.asp?id=14200476), whatever the fate of these taxa will eventually be.


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