[Taxacom] manuscript name question

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Sat Oct 10 20:12:47 CDT 2015

Thanks Gary,

> Does the Code mean, “a specimen known still to be in existence 
> at the time the description was published” [...] or “a specimen known 
> to be in existence at the time the describer realized it was a new species” 
> [...] or something else?

Given that all other criteria within the Code (as far as I know) that involve the timing of things center around the date of publication, I can't see any rational basis for interpreting the requirement of Art. 16.4.2 in any other temporal context.  To be a bit more pedantic, a specimen is not a Holotype until it is designated as such, and designation happens within the publication (i.e., "where the holotype or syntypes are extant specimens..." refers to Holotype/Syntypes; not material examined by taxonomists who intend to designate said material as a Holotype or Syntypes in the future). But I do agree that an explicit statement tying "extant" to "at the time of publication" in the next edition of the Code would be helpful.

My concern about the "reductio ad absurdum" arguments is that they can be applied to almost any Article in the Code.  Moreover, I worry that too much focus on such arguments can re-inforce the belief by some that the Code is just a rulebook for people who like to play games of pedantry.  I think what we REALLY want is to maintain a stable nomenclature, and document biodiversity before it is lost forever.  When we get too particular about the former, we risk threatening the latter.

Having said that....

> Suppose Marshall & Evenhuis (2015) had said, “We will keep trying to capture the 
> escaped holotype and when we do, we’ll deposit it in the Natal Museum (Pietermaritzburg)…”.  
> That scenario in itself is implausible (although the paper refers to “an accidentally 
> lost type specimen that might not be collected again due to its rarity”), but what 
> if a description of a new species of primate said, “the holotype was fitted with a 
> transmitter and released into the wild. When it dies, the body will be recovered 
> and deposited in …”.

This also crossed my mind (I chose not to "go there" for the reasons already outlined above in terms of excessive pedantry); and I agree with you completely.  Had they included such a statement (even for the fly), it would have, in my mind, covered all possible (no matter how implausible) bases, and would have avoided any ambiguity in the extraordinarily unlikely event that the type was later discovered to still be extant at the time of publication.  

I know Gary already knows this, but an important point that we Commissioners often remind ourselves, but perhaps doesn't get communicated more broadly often enough, is that the Code does NOT require that type specimens be deposited in any collection.  This is true for all names and all type specimens, regardless of whether the specimens are extant or not.  What the Code requires is that, for cases where the Holotype or Syntypes are extant, that a "statement of intent that [the type specimen(s)] will be (or are) deposited in a collection", and also "a statement indicating the name and location of that collection".  Whether or not the specimen actually IS deposited in the indicated collection has no bearing on nomenclatural availability.

> Should the Code be modified other than clarifying the meaning of extant? 
> Should we enumerate situations in which it is acceptable to describe a species 
> without deposition of a holotype? Should we require an explicit statement 
> with the original description (after 201X) why a holotype was not deposited? 
> What reasons would be acceptable?

We actually discussed these exact questions at the 2007 meeting in Washington DC, and as I recall, we finally decided that the ambiguity associated with enumerating specific exceptions, and/or determining legitimate reasons why a type was not (or will not be) deposited, would represent a Pandora's Box of even more ambiguity than we already have with the existing wording (akin to "prevailing usage").  I'm not suggesting it's a closed issue; but I am pointing out that the devil hides in the details, and the Code is highly vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences, so if we are discussing changes to the Code (intent or wording), we should tread very carefully.


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