Monday, February 19, 2007

Nomenclatorial slopiness

Cataloging and entering nomenclatorial relevant data is best done by machine (if not even better generated by machine and coded accordingly). However, this needs some discipline by the authors to allow at least semiautomatic processing.

Right now, I am looking at Seiferts paper on west Palaearctic Myrmica species where he raises two subspecies to species and makes some synonymies. At least that what he mentions in the abstract.

When you actually read the paper you are overwhelmed by extensive measurements, but very incomplete information on the specimens he used to derive his conclusions. In other words, nobody could reproduce this paper- a standard scientific expectation.

Within the paper he has for some of the taxa a section header, so it is clear he talks about a particular taxon for which he at least provides a list of the taxa he is including (and only from the abstract does one knows that he is actually synonymizing them). It would be much easier for any one abstracting this paper, not to speak of the computer, if there would be a simple acronomy ".n.syn.". But then, for Myrmica spinosior, it is completely implicit that he is rasising this taxon to species level.

There is also the issue about the original citation. For example, he lists "Myrmica lobicornis var. lobulicornis Nylander" as "Myrmica lobicornis lobulicornis" which is a simple detail not necessary for the computer, but an inconsistency because in other places he is using the original citations. When I asked him about another case he just replied that I would surely know what he meant, and that he might have confused this name with what was written on the label. This has no nomenclatorial consequences, as he points out, but it means a lot more work and a lot of hassle for Zoorecord or us who actually try to keep a record of what is being published. And it makes it very difficult to write programs like GoldenGATE, which actually ought to help to transfer our systematics knowledge into a digital world, where all our colleagues could take advantage of. For a taxonomist, who now has allmost all the publications available as pdf, this might be just one step to actually check the original publication and extract the proper original combinations.

In the next case though, it might have consequences. He lists "Myrmica lobicornis lobicornis var. lissahorensis" Stärcke as synonym of Myrmica lobicornis. But this is a quadrinomen, and thus not an available name. The name has been made available by Stitz in 1939:100. Furthermore, in this case, Seifert hasn't looked at the type, but the description only.

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