Describing Species

Describing Species: Practical Taxonomic Procedure for Biologists

Judith E. Winston
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 512
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    Describing Species
    Book Description:

    New species are discovered every day -- and cataloguing all of them has grown into a nearly insurmountable task worldwide. Now, this definitive reference manual acts as a style guide for writing and filing species descriptions. New collecting techniques and new technology have led to a dramatic increase in the number of species that are discovered. Explorations of unstudied regions and new habitats for almost any group of organisms can result in a large number of new species discoveries -- and hence the need to be described. Yet there is no one source a student or researcher can readily consult to learn the basic practical aspects of taxonomic procedures.

    Species description can present a variety of difficulties: Problems arise when new species are not given names because their discoverers do not know how to write a formal species description or when these species are poorly described. Biologists may also have to deal with nomenclatural problems created by previous workers or resulting from new information generated by their own research. This practical resource for scientists and students contains instructions and examples showing how to describe newly discovered species in both the animal and plant kingdoms.

    With special chapters on publishing taxonomic papers and on ecology in species description, as well as sections covering subspecies, genus-level, and higher taxa descriptions, Describing Species enhances any writer's taxonomic projects, reports, checklists, floras, faunal surveys, revisions, monographs, or guides.

    The volume is based on current versions of the International Codes of Zoological and Botanical Nomenclature and recognizes that systematics is a global and multicultural exercise. Though Describing Species has been written for an English-speaking audience, it is useful anywhere Taxonomy is spoken and will be a valuable tool for professionals and students in zoology, botany, ecology, paleontology, and other fields of biology.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50665-6
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    Judith E. Winston
  6. Part One: Introduction
    • Chapter 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-18)

      When Carl Linnaeus published the first edition of his Systema Naturae in 1735, he probably thought he was close to fulfilling his ambition of classifying all the plants and animals in the world. But by 1749 he was writing desperately to his friend Abraham Bäck, “Am Ito work myself to death, am I never to see or taste the world? What do I gain by it?” (Lindroth 1983:31). The job was already too much for any one person. Linnaeus persevered with his immense project, however, compiling 12 editions of the Systema Naturae before his death in 1777. He was succeeded...

    • Chapter 2 Biological Nomenclature
      (pp. 19-40)

      We are all taxonomists. Pattern seeking and the urge to classify our environment are part of our biology. Like other animals, we need such behavior to tell food from nonfood, predator from nonpredator, and to recognize potential mates, relatives, and offspring. As human animals, we put our conclusions into words and names (Dunn and Davidson 1968; Raven et al. 1971; Pinker 1995). We also use classification in our daily lives to create order and to make things easier to find. We devise our own schemes for household organization–socks in one bureau drawer, shirts in another–to make dressing faster...

  7. Part Two: Recognizing Species
    • Chapter 3 Species and Their Discovery
      (pp. 43-70)

      The first two sections of this chapter discuss species concepts and speciation processes affecting different kinds of organisms. The third section discusses characters biologists use to distinguish species. The final section gives examples of the many ways in which biologists have discovered and described new species in the course of their work.

      There is already too much literature on the “species problem” (e.g., Sylvester-Bradley 1956; Mayr 1957; Lewis 1959; Heiser 1965; Slobodchikoff 1976; Andersson 1990; and other references in this chapter’s Sources). It has been discussed, argued over, and symposiumed to death for years. And it is clear from the...

    • Chapter 4 Establishing Identity: The Literature Search
      (pp. 71-94)

      Chapter 3 illustrated some of the ways in which biologists have discovered new species in the course of their research. All of the new species given as examples in chapter 3 were recognized by biologists because they differed from their relatives in some significant characteristic: morphological, behavior, or reproductive. Similar clues may have led you to believe that you have also found an undescribed species. This chapter and chapter 5 explain how to make sure.

      One reason some taxonomists strongly discourage species description by nonspecialists is that they are aware of the awful mistakes that have been made (by both...

    • Chapter 5 Establishing Identity: Using Museum Collections
      (pp. 95-112)

      Once you have completed a thorough search of the literature, you will have come to one of two conclusions. Either you will be more convinced that you have found an undescribed species (because you cannot find any description or illustration that agrees in all details with your specimens) or you will have found one or more descriptions or illustrations that represent a known species to which the organism you are studying potentially belongs. If you are working on a well-known group of organisms in a well-studied region of the world and you have been able to make a positive identification,...

  8. Part Three: Writing Species Descriptions
    • Chapter 6 Species Descriptions in Taxonomy
      (pp. 115-128)

      This book describes the process of researching and writing the original description in detail because its purpose is a practical one. Once you have followed the steps in chapters 4 and 5 and have satisfied yourself that the organism you are studying does indeed represent an undescribed species, your aim is publication. Only if it is named and described acceptably in a scientific publication will the species name be available for you and others to use. Descriptions of new species are still an important part of publication in the field of taxonomy. A survey of the taxonomic literature produced over...

    • Chapter 7 Headings and Synonymies
      (pp. 129-146)

      This chapter covers the introductory sections of the species description: headings and synonymies. As pointed out in chapters 4 and 6, styles of description have varied over time and continue to vary according to differences in practice by specialists working on various groups of organisms. However, they all fit into the general form of a research paper, with the taxonomic description or descriptions comprising the results or results and discussion section. Some journal formats label them this way. In other journals description sections may be called “systematics” or “systematic account” (or “accounts” if more than one taxon is described), or...

    • Chapter 8 Naming Species: Etymology
      (pp. 147-172)

      Naming your new species is an essential part of describing it. Both codes of nomenclature have the primary purpose of making the names of taxa available for use, thus making subsequent recognition and identification possible. This chapter covers the selection and composition of species names and the etymology section of the species description. Etymology is the study of the origins and meaning of words. The etymology section is the section in which you tell what your new species name means, why you chose it, and how you composed it.

      Some people approach naming their new species with trepidation, worrying about...

    • Chapter 9 Type and Voucher Material
      (pp. 173-188)

      An original species description should include a section on type material and its deposition. The different kinds of type material you might encounter in museum research were covered in chapter 5, but the basic concepts are reviewed briefly here.

      The type is the name-bearer, the specimen associated with a name by description and publication. Its use provides an objective base for our system of biological nomenclature. The type as a nomenclatural object has nothing to do with the common idea of “typical” as expressing some kind of average, or with the pre-Darwinian typological species concept. A type specimen may or...

    • Chapter 10 Diagnosis
      (pp. 189-200)

      In the chapter in which he gave these definitions, George Gaylord Simpson was actually discussing the difference between “splitters” and “lumpers” among taxonomists, between those who look primarily for dissimilarities and ways to tell taxa apart and those who look for shared similarities that limit collective boundaries. There are still splitters and lumpers among taxonomists, but it is not quite fair to claim that neither group can tell diagnosis from description. However, when it comes to writing taxonomic papers, it does seem to be true that most biologists, including some taxonomists, are still confused about the difference between a description...

    • Chapter 11 Description Section
      (pp. 201-240)

      Whereas the diagnosis consists only of the characters that distinguish the new species from its relatives, the description section should include all the information necessary to provide a clear and accurate mental image of the organism. Ideally, the writing should be so vivid that a reader could recognize that species from the written description alone. But producing a taxonomic description that good is not easy, even for the expert with the “thorough knowledge of the subject” and “methodical mind” of the introductory quotation. In a sense, a species or any other taxonomic description combines two of the most difficult types...

    • Chapter 12 Taxonomic Discussion Section
      (pp. 241-260)

      The discussion section answers the basic question, What do the results mean? It should take the reader back to the introductory statement of the purpose of the paper and answer the question or questions raised according to the results given in the body of the paper. A complete discussion section should cover the theoretical and practical implications of the results, point out exceptions or anomalies and still-existing gaps in knowledge, show how the results agree or disagree with other work, and state the conclusions, giving (succinctly) the evidence for each (Woodford 1986; Day 1988; O’Connor 1991).

      In a taxonomic paper...

    • Chapter 13 The Ecology Section
      (pp. 261-276)

      Some ecological variation reflects subpopulational, subspecies, or individual differences (see chapter 17), but many aspects of an organism’s ecology and behavior, habitat or host, feeding, reproductive patterns, seasonal patterns, mortality patterns, and so on are species-specific. It will be no news to an ecologist reading this book that the ecology of an organism can be important taxonomically because you may have become aware that you might be dealing with a new species when some characteristic of the ecology of your study organism did not fit any of the patterns described for known species. However, you may not have realized the...

    • Chapter 14 Occurrence and Distribution
      (pp. 277-292)

      A species description usually includes information on the distribution of the organism, covering its occurrence, the sites at which it was found in your study, as well as the localities in which the organism has been reported by others, if applicable, and its range, the general geographic area in which populations of the species occur. For a new species this section may be simple. Often it is only the type locality because that is the only place the organism has so far been found. In a monograph or revisionary study, however, the distribution may be a long section with lists...

    • Chapter 15 Material Examined
      (pp. 293-302)

      One of the kindest things you can do for biologists who come after you is to include a clear and accurate account of all the material you studied somewhere in your species description. It may seem that including a section on type material (chapter 9) would be enough. However, once you have undertaken some taxonomic research of your own and have searched through paper after paper without finding so much as a note on the deposition of the author’s specimens, or arrived at the institution where an author’s specimens were deposited only to spend hours or days trying to figure...

    • Chapter 16 Publication
      (pp. 303-320)

      Once your description has been written, you are ready for the final step: publication. But publication of a taxonomic description has two aspects. As with any other form of scientific research, you must deal with the logistics of getting your paper accepted and published in a scientific serial. You must also make sure that you satisfy the nomenclatural rules that govern the publication of the names of new taxa. This chapter covers both aspects of publication. First, it reviews what makes a new species name available (zoology) or valid (botany). Second, it describes the steps in the publication process and...

  9. Part Four: Beyond Species Description
    • Chapter 17 Subspecies
      (pp. 323-336)

      This chapter was not part of the original outline for this book. An academic background in ecology and evolutionary biology led me to think of subspecies as flexible, responsive, and changing populations, unlikely to fit well into the hierarchical categories of formal biological nomenclature. Recent texts on evolutionary biology (e.g., Grant 1981; Otte and Endler 1989; Avise 1993) do not even mention the term subspecies. Research on marine invertebrates made me even more wary of giving names to subspecies in groups where we still have little idea of the limits of most species. So why write about describing subspecies at...

    • Chapter 18 Genus-Level Description and Revision
      (pp. 337-366)

      You are not likely to revise a whole classification unless you get very serious about systematics, but you may well face the problem of describing a new genus. Eight percent of taxonomic papers published during the last 25 years have included descriptions of one or more new genera (Winston and Metzger 1998). If you are working on a group in which there are many undescribed species, it is quite possible that the particular one you have studied won’t fit into any described genus, either. This chapter covers generic concepts, the rules of nomenclature dealing with publication of new genera, and...

    • Chapter 19 Keys
      (pp. 367-382)

      From the user’s point of view, one of the most important functions of taxonomy is to provide a fast and accurate way to identify organisms (Quicke 1993). A taxonomic key, sometimes called a diagnostic key, determinator, or artificial key, is basically a series of questions about the characteristics of an unknown organism. By working through it and answering each question in order, the user is led to a correct identification of the unknown organism.

      As Mayr pointed out in the quotation at the beginning of this chapter the use of dichotomous choices in identifying taxa goes back to classical times....

    • Chapter 20 Description of Higher Taxa
      (pp. 383-406)

      This chapter covers family and higher group categories and the rules of nomenclature dealing with them and gives examples of descriptions of higher taxa. Descriptions of new orders, classes, or phyla are extremely rare; a new order is described in fewer than 1 in 1,000 taxonomic publications, a new class in 1 in 4,000, and a new phylum in about 1 in 10,000 (figure 6.1) (Winston and Metzger 1998). Changes to existing groups at these levels are also rare and are unlikely to be published, much less accepted by the biological community, unless they are done in conjunction with a...

    • Chapter 21 Common Problems
      (pp. 407-432)

      Describing a new species is often a simple process, taking only straightforward background research, plus a little motivation, to accomplish. But some cases can be more difficult, either because of problems discovered while carrying out the background research or because of nomenclatural difficulties encountered in the course of writing up the description for publication. This chapter covers a few of the most common problems that may arise.

      One of the problems you might have to deal with during background research for your project is what to do when you cannot locate the type material for a species you need to...

    • Chapter 22 Further Studies in Systematics
      (pp. 433-454)

      Although the words taxonomy and systematics are sometimes used interchangeably, the definition followed in this book (chapter 1) considers taxonomy to be the part of systematics dealing with the description, naming, and classification of organisms. Systematics, by this definition, is the entire scientific field that “deals with the organization, history, and evolution of life. It ultimately asks, how did life forms originate? How did they diversify and how are they distributed both in space and time?” (Novacek 1992:103). Carrying out the process of describing a new species through to publication is a very satisfying endeavor, if for no other reason...

  10. Literature Cited
    (pp. 455-488)
  11. Subject Index
    (pp. 489-502)
  12. Author Index
    (pp. 503-512)
  13. Taxon Index
    (pp. 513-518)