Tag Archives: species

Wikispecies – Lets just list them all!

WikiSpecies LogoSince it has been a while since I posted anything I am going to talk about a project I am heavily involved in. Wikispecies. What is it? Well Wikispecies is not Wikipedia for one. So do not go there expecting to see articles on all your topics of interest, some 5 million on the English Wikipedia. No when you arrive at Wikispecies you will see that it is about one thing. Taxonomy and Nomenclature. That is the names of all living things organized by their hierarchies. So I will take you for a tour of the site. A big part of why I am writing this I will conceed is I am looking for more editors for Wikispecies. In particular taxonomists to edit the sections on the species they know. For myself, as I stated I am directly involved in Wikispecies. My user page on Wikimedia Foundation Projects is Faendalimas. The link on my name will take you to my User page on Wikispecies. On there it can be seen that I am a Bureaucrat, a CheckUser, and an Administrator. Basically apart from editing I am involved in a considerable about of policy development and management for the site. On my user page you will notice that my real name, Scott Thomson, is also a link. This is because I have named numerous taxa and hence have a taxonomic authority page which has my various taxonomic publications, category lists to all the taxa I have described etc. I would encourage anyone who has named species to be involved in this. It is a great opportunity to have a say in what goes on your authority page, including links to all your publications. You can make sure your species you have named are all listed, listed correctly, have all the data included.

Elseya rhodini So to walk you all through an example I am going to use a species I have discussed here before. Yes it is one I named, but it is an easy example for me. The southern New Guinea Stream turtle, Elseya rhodini, has its own page and I will explain what is in it (for this article I suggest opening the Wikispecies page for Elseya rhodini and refer to it). So each species has particular information presented. Photo’s are optional on Wikispecies. We put them there when they are available. But are not needed. Wikispecies is about information. The first thing to notice is the hierarchy is presented. Every parent taxon that the species Elseya rhodini belongs to is listed. For example it is a member of the subgenus Hanwarachelys and by clicking on this you can see its sister species, Elseya schultzei and Elseya novaeguineae, next up of course is Elseya, then Chelodininae etc. Each jump up the hierarchy shows more and more related species. Each species page has the type data, the holotype, the type locality, the original reference (often downloadable). Lets imagine you were embarking on a study of the taxonomy of the Elseya. From these pages you can get all the holotype information, all the original references and the current synonymies of every taxon relevant to the Elseya. As Wikispecies develops, it currently has half a million taxa done, you will be able to do this for any living organism on the planet. That is the scope and plan of Wikispecies.

So how do you become involved. Many probably already can. If you have an account on Wikipedia you can make the account global and actually edit as an identified editor on any Wiki Project. If you have no account create one. If you are not logged in your edits will appear as an ip address and these are not viewed favorably. Once you have an account you can start editing. Of course you will need to learn some wiki markup. The language is very simple to use, and not difficult to learn. But we do use templates. If you click on Edit Source you will see the code of the page. In the code near the top for example is {{Elseya (Hanwarachelys)}}, this is a template, and that piece of code contains the entire hierarchy down to the subgenus name. Another template is {{aut|Thomson}} this one makes all the text after the “|” into small caps. That is my name. There are also features such as double square brackets “[[ ]]” which makes the text a link, or ” … ” which makes the text italic. It is easy to learn and if you look around wikipedia you will find plenty of information on wiki-markup language.

If you look around the site you will see what are known as red-links. Links are supposed to be blue (unvisited) or purple (visited) but not red. Red means the link goes to a page not created. Those pages need to be made. Here is my plea. Anyone who has an interest in life, I do not care what species, take an interest. Edit some pages. Edit the pages on the species you like. That is all. You need the references, type data, and most recent synonymy. With that you can create the page. If you need help go to my talk page, see me on IRC in Freenode Channel #Wikispecies. I will help anyone who wants to edit Wikispecies. Please remember one thing. It is not true that anyone can edit the Wikimedia Foundation pages and destroy someone else’s efforts. New users are considered unpatrolled edits. Every edit is checked by editors who patrol these edits. We also have bots that do it. Vandalism, is generally undone (reverted) within minutes of it occurring. People are always asking for a single site that has all the basic taxonomic and nomenclatural data for all species. Well it is being made. Come help make it. It cannot do it by itself or automatically.


The advantages and disadvantages of International Lists of Species.

I have mentioned several times that I favor the use of International Lists of species for clear and obvious groups of reptiles. The one I use significantly is the Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group’s annual checklist of turtles. I favor the production of these lists but with several caveats. I am going to explain the advantages and disadvantages of these lists in this post.

One of the biggest disadvantages is a point made by Pauly et al, 2009, that no one group should have overall control over the nomenclature of a given taxonomic group. This goes against the principals of the ICZN Code. This I do agree with. The danger of a single group having such control is that personal preference and opinion will pervade the list. The way to prevent this is to have a diverse group of editors of the list with a review process that ensures this does not occur. The list of editors must include those who have a good understanding of the ICZN code and must be rigid in its usage of the code, that is they must not over-read the code or go beyond it. This is actually a very difficult thing to do.

Another difficulty of course is having everyone use it. My personal view on this is it is better for nomenclature to work from a top down perspective. That is, international lists by major oganisations for a group of taxa that are followed by countries and states. Otherwise we end up with species having different names in different states or countries. This is of no use to anyone and is particularly difficult for management of endangered species. So basically we would have an International Body develop the lists these would be followed by the IUCN and CITES where relevant and then in turn followed by countries and the states therein. You will hear the argument for example that “species X is from this State, so we get to determine its name” actually no you don’t, the name is determined by those following the ICZN Code at an international level by naming it something different the State is potentially producing a dual nomenclature.

This is all about preventing dual nomenclature. I have said in several posts that this is a major problem and for a variety of reasons, least of all confusion. One thing I am pleased to see in the IUCN and CITES is that they at least are very consistent and adament about their nomenclature. I cannot say the same for countries and states. So in summary the disadvantages are mostly about monopolies which we need to be wary of, the risk of dual nomenclatures, and ensuring they are used.

The advantages of these lists if they are done well are manyfold. First up you have a consistent nomenclature for the group. No-one has to try to determine the name of a species and its validity when they have little to no interest in taxonomy. They can just look it up. It provides also some easy to obtain statistics on the group in question, eg. number of described taxa, percentage endangered, regional statistics also there are many reasons you may wish to state some of these statistics in a non taxonomic paper, this makes them easy to obtain. They also give you such basic data as who named the taxon, when it was named, type locality, type specimen if they are detailed, synonyms. All these data are also sometimes desired or required in non-taxonomic papers.

Another, possibly not so obvious advantage, is that this list annually maintained provides a starting point for a LAN (List of Available Names) if it is ever desired to produce one. The LAN is an opportunity for the researchers on a group to produce an official list of available names for their taxonomic group of interest. This process done with the ICZN can greatly simplify or establish the accepted nomenclature for the group. Particularly useful where there have been issues in the nomenclature. A well done annual list by an international body is effectively a LAN in all but name, that has yet to be approved by the ICZN. So definitely worth having.

Within the Reptiles I do not believe a single list for all reptiles is either feasable or desirable. It is too large and too many names. It would seem better for international bodies to split the reptiles up as they have been many times in the past for discussions basically as turtles, snakes, lizards and crocodiles. Remember this is not about pure phylogeny, it is just a starting point of where to enclose the groups of interest. This is my take on international lists, I see them extremely useful, if done with a precautionary method that takes into account their inherent issues also.

Describing a species: The “Best Practices” debate.

Southern New Guinea Stream Turtle. Photo by Arthur Georges.

Southern New Guinea Stream Turtle. Photo by Arthur Georges.

I have recently described my 6th turtle species which is pictured here. It is the Southern Stream Turtle, Elseya rhodini, from Southern New Guinea. This species was described in the journal Zootaxa, and its types have been placed in the Papua New Guinea National Museum in Port Moresby. It has been a while since I made a post this is largely because I have been traveling alot and had to do significant editing to complete the paper at the same time.

In any-case in recent years there has been considerable debate about the “Best Practices” for describing new species. In a previous post I discussed taxonomic vandalism and in short the presence of taxonomic vandalism has fueled the debate over this issue. In herpetology the big issue is not how many names someone produces, but how they are done. I myself do not care at all how many species a person does or has described. What matters is that the science of this has the necessary checkpoints to ensure accuracy, integrity and that the conclusions of the examination is within accepted (at the time) scientific theory and practices. Generally it is believed in science that the best way to do this is through peer review.

Peer review and editorial review are two completely different steps in this process. The editor of an article should never be the author of that article, if for no other reason than we tend to be blind to our own mistakes. We know what we mean so that’s what we see. In a large body of text you will miss your own typos and grammar issues. Getting all this right and the formatting is the editors job. Anyone with a good command of the language of publication can in theory edit an article. Peer review though means that the article’s science is checked by people who do know that field of science. The two peer reviewers of my recent description were both scientists who have themselves published new species papers, reviews of genera etc in the past. They know the science and what would be expected and I had little say in who did that, they were chosen by the editor. Hence the editor should not be an author.

The idea in the best practices debate is that because the ICZN rules do not dictate that Peer Review is a requirement that a best practice should be adopted to ensure this happens. The problem of course; who is the judge and jury on this? who decides if an article meets the standard? these are questions that are difficult to answer. One option that has been developed for a while now is the List of Predatory Standalone Journals, this list includes journals with no standing at a scholarly level and it is highly recommended that no nomenclatural acts should be published in them. This at least provides something people can use when deciding which journal to publish in. Another option is to look to where the most taxonomic works are being published these days and that would be the journal Zootaxa that I mentioned earlier. Certainly at present it would be the journal of choice for taxonomic works.

The upside of this debate is that if people wishing to describe taxa do follow this best practice a number of highly dubious issues can be avoided. First is ethics. Science has always assumed a code of ethics among practicing scientists and for the most part all have followed it for the last 150 years or so. There have and always will be exceptions. The ICZN code was written on the assumption that this generally accepted code of ethics would be largely followed. Unfortunately this has proven to be wrong. We now have published articles that make horrific accusations against people, we have academic theft and what is genuine narcissism  overriding any common sense. Peer review should be able to get rid of this. The next is that the science is done well and in an acceptable fashion so that the work is useful. Nothing worse than nomenclatural acts that instead of clarifying an issue actually make it worse. I have discussed some of these in the past (for example Emydura). The third of course is simply the polarizing effect of such poor quality work being published. This causes issues between those that will follow the ICZN code to the letter, vs those that want a bit of decent science in it also.

The best practice debate goes beyond fringe writers trying to force their views down the majority of scientists throats, ie their on a soapbox. Another issue in this is lack of supportive data for nomenclatural acts. You cannot look at the relationships of species without examining all the known species in a group. This includes both the living and the fossil species and requires comprehensive multidisciplinary datasets. Basically what this is saying is that it is fine to present a molecular phylogeny, but without inclusion of a morphological dataset, morphometrics and the extinct taxa if there are any, nomenclatural acts should never be made. There are too many cases in recent years now where changes to the nomenclature made just on Molecular grounds have proven to be incorrect once more data is added. These are other examples of best practices, and should be done.

Rapid and unnecessary change to the nomenclature is annoying, particularly to non taxonomists. Many people who are not taxonomists want stability, unfortunately they also do not know what that actually is. They think stability includes the combination, ie the genus + species, it does not. It actually means that the species name should remain stable because of the Principal of Priority, or the Genus name.  But there is no requirement for species to be kept in the same genus as much as possible. However, too much change causes management problems. So here again the peer review process can step in as a check point. Are the changes in an article justifiable, ie is there enough data to put everyone through the annoyance of the change. With the change though it is possible to be too conservative as well as too free with changes. Ultra conservatism in nomenclature is quite frankly a cause of extinction, because if species are not recognized, they are not protected. For evidence of this go through the criteria of listing in the IUCN Redlist, one very important consideration is high endemism. Conversely ultra freedom in nomenclature wastes conservation funding. A balance between the two must be achieved. Yet another opportunity for peer review to be a checkpoint.

In the end taxonomy is a multidisciplinary science, and unlike most others its acts cannot be undone. Hence it should never be done inadequately. It is a science that needs a checkpoint process such as peer review.

To name it? Or not to?

I was recently sent a pdf of a paper that I found both highly interesting but also presented some nomenclatural difficulties on interpretation. The paper is on a new lizard species produced in a lab as a second generation parthenogenic form that was the result of hybridization (Cole et al. 2014). First I think the results are fascinating and the results of the experiments are a worthy addition to science. However, what is not so clear is whether or not this should have been named as a new species. Parthenogenesis is reproduction, effectively cloning, in single sexed populations of an organism. It is rare in vertebrates but a number of reptiles do this. But those results have nothing to do with nomenclature. Here I am just looking at the nomenclatural decision to name it. I must reiterate as I have mentioned before, I cannot make nomenclatural acts in a blog, so I am making no changes to the taxonomy here. That is for those working on these species to do and publish appropriately.

In their paper Cole et al. (2014) cite the Code, Article 1.3.3, as prohibiting the naming of hybrids, and further they refer to Article 17.3, where parthenogenetic forms are not excluded by the code. They use this as justification for the naming of this form. This is correct the code does state this but it states a few other things as well. I am using this as an example of interpretation of the code. It is written in words in both French and English, hence it does take some careful consideration when reading it.

To interpret the code you must look at the entirety of a sentence, and you must follow through its links to other parts of the code. You must also consider all possible sections that may apply to the given situation. For example this form was produced in a lab is it a hypothetical form? If it is article 1.3.1 would apply, also excluding it from being named. However, I think the authors could argue successfully against that and I would agree with them. The main section of the code that does apply to this scenario is article 1.3.3 so we need to look at it in its entirety; there are 7 parts to article 1.3 I will only list the relevant ones. I am presenting both the French and English versions here, some people insist on using both, though to me in this case they read the same.

1.3. Exclusions. Sont exclus des dispositions du Code les noms propsés

1.3.3. pour des spécimens hybrides nommés comme tels; [pour les taxons d’origine hybride, voir Art 17.2;]

1.3. Exclusions. Excluded from the provisions of the Code are names proposed

1.3.3. for hybrid specimens as such (for taxa which are of hybrid origin see Article 17.2);

Basically article 1.3 is dealing with forms that are excluded from nomenclature, that is cannot be named. Article 1.3.3 is including hybrids in this list and forms of hybrid origin. The important words here are hybrid origin. This form is an F2 generation from a hybrid origin. So this would seem to state that because the parthenogenic form arose because of a hybrid cross in its recent lineage that it is precluded from being named. You need to then follow through to article 17.2 of the code which states:

17.2. it is applied to a taxon known, or later found, to be of hybrid origin (see also Article 23.8); or

17.3. it is based on only part of an animal, or one sex, or one stage in the life cycle, or one of several dissimilar generations, or one morph or caste of a polymorphic species, or a parthenogenetic form, or a specimen which is an unusual example of the taxon (for exclusions see Articles 1.3 and 45.6).

Certainly parthenogenic forms can be named as is outlined in 17.3, but this is referring to wild forms of unknown heritage, if hybrid origin is known it is still precluded by 1.3.3. It is quite possible that those species of reptiles that have parthenogenesis in the wild got there by hybridization events in their history, it is also possible there are other factors involved. Each case would have to be tested. But for this case, it is known that it is from hybridization, the offspring, including the clones of the offspring are still hybrids and should be referred to as such.

Although not actually required by the code, though it is a recommendation, this form also has no type locality. How can a form that only occurs in a laboratory have one? My personal view is that much like the process of domestication, human created forms of other species, be it through hybridization or selective breeding or even other means should not be appearing in the zoological record of the species on this planet. That should be reserved for the species that have occurred naturally. Taxonomy and the Nomenclature that supports it are used to conserve, protect etc the species in their natural environments. As I have said I think the experiments that developed this form and what it tells us about evolution etc is brilliant. But it does not need a formal name to do all that.

The Eastern Water Dragon, nomenclatural confusion and poor quality.

For many people the Eastern Water Dragon has long been identified as Physignathus lesueurii a name combination that goes back to John Edward Gray’s work of 1845 (Amey et al., 2012). While in the genus Physignathus it shared that position with the type species of the genus the Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus concincinus). Andrew Amey, Patrick Couper and Glenn Shea (2012) detail the long nomenclatural history of this species and other relevant species and genera and their paper can be downloaded here. So I will not revisit the entire history. Suffice it to say that with the genus Physignathus being shown to be paraphyletic, and the type species being P. concincinus there is no alternative but to put the Eastern Water Dragon elsewhere.

This particular post is a further demonstration of the type concept, but this time for genera. I am using this example because it would seem to be fairly well resolved now. In my previous post I was largely referring to types for species, in genera there is a type species, again wherever the type goes the name goes. So with P. concincinus being the type species of Physignathus it is the only species that has to go with that name, any species included in the genus alongside it must be related to it and the group must be monophyletic.

This is why various other names listed by Amey et al. (2012) are not available for the Eastern Water Dragon. Genera such as Istiurus originally described by Georges Cuvier in 1829 but for only a single species, I. amboinensis, and that species is hence the type species for Istiurus, by what is known as monotypy. If a genus is described with only one species, that species is its type species. This cannot be changed and since the genus Hydrosaurus was resurrected for the Sailfin Lizard this makes the genus Istiurus a junior synonym of Hydrosaurus, as explained by Amey et al. (2012). So this is another genus that cannot be used for the Eastern Water Dragon.

In the end it comes to the name Intellagama described by Richard Wells and Ross Wellington in 1985 as the oldest available name for the genus containing the Eastern Water Dragon (as Intellagama lesueurii). The difficulty with this name is not that it was not declared or published. Although there have been many criticisms of Wells and Wellington (1985) including a challenge to its validity to the ICZN it is a valid publication. This is because the ICZN deemed the issues with the publication to be taxonomic, not nomenclatural. As I have already pointed out earlier the ICZN only deals with nomenclature. So the publication is to be accepted but not necessarily all the names within it. Amey et al. (2012) point out that this genus has mostly been seen as a junior synonym of Physignathus mainly because it was not diagnosed from the Chinese Water Dragon.

Here is a point on the major difficulty in nomenclature. The types of information presented in a description matters. It is important to name a type species for generic descriptions.  It is true that if the named genus is monotypic then the only species in it is inferred as the type species, but otherwise it must be named. It is also important to diagnose it appropriately with a significant amount of evidence from its related genera. Just as you would with a species. This can be as a revision of previously published work or  done in the description.

The difficulty in the case here was that the genus Intellagama was not diagnosed from the genus containing the Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus), this did not make the name unavailable but made it unclear how to use it, so it was put in synonymy. It was not until a paper by Townsend et al. (2011) that the usage and justification for the genus was published. It is important to note here that although the name was originally coined by Wells and Wellington (1985) that the evidence that it was actually a genus, and how the name was to be used was not defined until 2011.

It is for this reason that as has been pointed out by many recent authors when discussing a variety of issues in taxonomy and nomenclature that the preferred best practice for the erection of new names is through the peer reviewed journals in this way it can be hoped that mistakes and unclear names can be avoided.




How names are attached to animals, the importance of the type.

I wanted to write about this one because there are a lot of misconceptions about how this is actually done. It is important to understand the process, by understanding a process we can understand why we would do something. So in this case by understanding the connection between nomenclature and taxonomy we can understand why I will recommend certain names be used.

When a species is described the actual published description is attached, or based, on a single specimen called the holotype. This specimen is a representative of a wild population. As a taxonomist I see types as so important I go to great lengths to ensure that any species I name is actually represented correctly and with useable material. There is nothing worse than have holotypes of different species that are effectively not comparable, for example, one species being represented by an adult and another by a juvenile. There are many changes in the morphology between juvenile and adult due to growth and maturity, likewise there can also be differences between the sexes.

Although not required I have come to the decision, over time, to only set adult females as Holotypes. I also set a Paratype which is an adult male and declare it the Allotype. A Paratype is one or more individual specimens examined at the same time as the holotype and declared as such in the original description, an Allotype is a specimen of opposite sex to the holotype, also declared at the same time as the Holotype. As I said the way I do this is not required, I can in fact set any specimen that is representative of the species I am describing as the Holotype and I do not have to set a Paratype or an Allotype. I do not think taxonomists working on other species should follow my view on this. My reasons for adult females are two fold, first by choosing one or the other and following it I have taken sexual dimorphism out of the issue when comparing types, second I choose females because they are somewhat easier to catch in turtles, they bask more, come out of the water more, go into traps easier, hence it is a little more likely that anyone comparing freshwater turtle species will be looking at females. An equally valid argument can be made in snakes, for example, to set males as holotypes since hemipene morphology is an important diagnostic character. But this is all preference, entirely up to the person working on the group. The only compulsory part under the ICZN Code is that a holotype is set.

The name for the taxon is attached to this holotype so whatever that holotype turns out to be that is where the name goes. As I discussed in the Chelodina oblonga article a misidentified holotype is generally a difficult issue, often requiring the intervention of the ICZN. It will often mean that a name, well used and understood, is going to be moved to another species. All the previously published literature on that species will now be using the wrong name. This can create a lot of confusion, and believe it or not anger. It also in vertebrates such as reptiles creates legal issues, as many are protected by various local and international laws and agreements.

The part of all this that attaches the name to the holotype and determines if that name is available for use is nomenclature, and is governed by the ICZN Code. The term available has a very specific meaning in Nomenclature. It means that the name has been published in accordance with the ICZN Code and has sufficient details in the description to meet Articles 10 to 20 of the Code. So put simply this would mean the original description identifies a type specimen, provides diagnostic characters that claim to differentiate the taxon and is not an identical name to another species in the same genus. There are several other minor rules also and readers can look at Articles 10 to 20 of the code for themselves to see what a description needs to have. Feel free to ask me questions on this.

So if the name is available the next part is the taxonomy. The population represented by the holotype is demonstrated by acceptable means to be diagnosable different to other populations. This can be done with morphology, molecular work and statistics. I personally prefer to see all three. Now that is taxonomy, this is where the two connect through that holotype which is a part of the taxonomic analysis, and of course is attached to the name. Taxonomy and Nomenclature are separate fields, but are also intrinsically entwined in their practice. The taxonomy will produce, among other things, a synonymy and this is a list of the available names in order of Priority, that is, in order of usage by date of publication. The oldest name, is the one to be used for the taxon. Or a new one is proposed if there was none, and that leads back to nomenclature.

The Holotype is, therefore, the most important specimen of any species. If you go to a museum to examine specimens of a species you are working on you will soon see this. The way Holotypes are stored, and who has access to them, and the fact that they generally cannot be loaned out shows the higher level of importance placed on them. Many older names have problematic types. Many do not have one at all, or they may have a type series, called syntypes. This is because the concept of types came into zoology some 100 years after Linnaeus so early descriptions do not have them actually set. This is fine under the Code; it’s not fair to hold someone’s work to a set of rules that came into being over 100 years after they wrote the paper. However, it is important to try and identify which specimens were used in the description and this is one of the causes of confusion in nomenclature with older names.

If there is a series of syntypes and there is potential for confusion, eg more than one species represented by the syntypes (eg Chelodina expansa, Emydura victoriae are both in this position) a lectotype is often set. A lectotype is a specimen from the type series that has been determined to be the name-bearing type, that is, the one the name is actually attached to. This is done by a later author who is reviewing the issues. If a holotype is absent altogether and there is good reason to expect confusion, a neotype can be set. This is again a name-bearing type that is equivalent to a holotype and will now represent the name. Again this must be justified and done by a later author who is reviewing the problem at hand.

The one thing I will emphasize above all else, examination of the types.  If you want to publish a work naming a new species, or rearranging them significantly, you must examine all the relevant types. Many specimens in museums are misidentified, this is not their fault they have the label that the museum was given when they got them, this could be 50 or 100 years ago, even older. If you do not examine the types you cannot guarantee that a name is attached to the correct species.  The two examples I mentioned before; Chelodina expansa has two syntypes, one is a C. expansa, one is a C. longicollis; Emydura victoriae has two syntypes, one is an E. victoriae, one is an E. macquarii. In the end seriously, examine the types, after all do you want to be remembered for the species you named, or the mess you made?

Why is nomenclature so important in vertebrates such as reptiles?

The topics I am discussing here are specific examples of nomenclatural confusion. They are ones where different groups are using different names for the same species.  The application of the nomenclature for a species or species group is reliant on the taxonomy, hence as with any science change is inevitable. Hence many of the changes people see in the names we apply to species are for taxonomic reasons. It is true there are some nomenclatural issues, such as the Chelodina oblonga case I mentioned, but the Emydura macquarii case was largely taxonomic.

Nomenclature is concerned with the availability of names, that is can the name be used, whereas the validity of names is the taxonomy. If a name is available then it should either be used (if valid) or placed in the synonymy of another name (if invalid). Although the field of nomenclature and the science of taxonomy are connected, they are separate and are dealt with separately. The ICZN for example is only concerned with the nomenclatural (availability) of names, how they are used is up to taxonomists.

It is important that we all use the same names for the species we are interested in for a number of reasons. First and foremost is confusion, it is difficult and ineffective if we communicate with different names for the same organism but it goes far beyond this. Another important point specific to vertebrates (and some invertebrates) is legislation. Almost all vertebrates in most countries are afforded some level of legislative protection; this does vary country to country and even within states in some countries. However when species become endangered they are scheduled, or list, and this is done by their scientific name. It serves no purpose for a species to be listed under different names in different states only because of inconsistency in the application of nomenclature.

This is why I am in favor of international checklists done by major interest groups. In turtles, as an example, the checklist done annually by the IUCN SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group takes many months to prepare; it is prepared and reviewed by internationally renowned specialists in the study and management of turtle species.  This checklist takes into account all recent publications, determines the availability and validity of all the names for all the species. It then produces a widely distributed and freely available document that anyone can check for the currently accepted nomenclature. Then everyone is on the same page. Whatever it is that is your interest in, following this example, turtles you can follow it through with no confusion necessary. No need to try and justify the name you’re using or be unsure of what someone else is talking about.

It also has a major impact in medicine, snakebite is an unfortunate occurrence but it happens, when trying to get treatment for a snakebite the last thing you want is the name you are using for the species that bit you to be different to the one on the antivenin or that the doctors treating you know. Similar problems occur in trade, CITES, the IUCN, and local authorities may have different names for the same species. This is not helpful when all licences must agree with each other for the transfer of an animal. This already occurs and is one of the reasons I started this blog.

An example in Australia is the Saw-shelled Turtle, in Queensland known as Wollombinia latisternum, in NSW known as Myuchelys latisternum. Same species, different names in different States of Australia. The name Wollombinia is of cause an unavailable name, this has been published numerous times, with no refutation to this ever presented. In fact the name Wollombinia has never been used for this genus in a peer-reviewed scientific paper. The availability of this name has come down to the individual opinion of a very small number of people. This dual nomenclature serves no value and only creates confusion.

Another value of the binomial names and hence nomenclature is that it can be recognized irrespective of the language of the document.  Even documents in non-latin texts will still print the scientific names of a species in their correct latin format. Hence as a non-reader of many of these languages I can see what species a paper is discussing, and if it’s a species of interest I can go to the trouble of translating it.

In the end the value of nomenclature is that it is the basis for our ability to communicate about the species that are of interest to us. Our topics of interest can be different, just how scientific we want to be can be different, it can be ecology, husbandry, genetics, or any other field of science, but at least we can know the species being discussed and decide if the paper is relevant to what we want to know. It is the standard names for all the species.

So in summary it is best if we are all using the same names for the species we work with, it is important to stay up to date on that. If there are International checklists for your species group I would suggest those as a major reference to what name you should use. If this is not available then the latest peer-reviewed literature on the species you are interested in will help also.