Taxonomic database

DAPHNE G. FAUTIN fautin at
Sat Jul 26 21:38:19 EDT 1997

Dear Pam et al.,

I am responding to everyone since I think one or more of Pam's concerns
may not be confined to her.

On Fri, 25 Jul 1997, Terry Eng wrote:

> Hi all,
>          Does anyone know of any organization responsible for cataloging
>  scientific names? I am interested in knowing who actually officializes
>  these names or if they are officialized by the various societies
> dealing
>  with specific groups of organisms, such as an ichthyological society
>  with regard to fishes. I feel that such a database would be an
> extremely useful resource if a single one exists.

The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature is a set of rules that
governs how animals are named (there is an analogous Code of Botanical
Nomenclature and one for bacteria, as well).  As long as an animal name
meets the conditions of the Code, it is considered "official," in the
sense of your question ("available" in the terms of taxonomy). The name
must be published to meet particular criteria but not in any particular
journal.  One responsibility of editors of journals in which descriptions
appear is to be sufficiently familiar with the Code to ensure the
descriptions are in accord with its provisions. 

Errors tend to creep into taxonomy/nomenclature -- such as misspellings,
mistaken dates, etc.  More insidious is the problem of homonymy, in which
the identical name has been published for more than one taxon.  As long
as both have met the provisions of the Code, the one published first
generally is the one to which the name applies.  (The International
Commission of Zoological Nomenclature rules on disputes and publishes the
Code.)  Bill Eschmeyer of the California Academy of Sciences has devoted
many years recently to indexing the nomenclatural literature on fishes,
and his "Genera of Fishes" (
and "Species of Fishes" (
are the definitive sources for taxonomic and nomenclatural data on fishes.
(I am engaged in a similar effort for sea anemones.)

> My current question involves the
>  validity of the nomenclature of the blue mandarin dragonette native to
>  the Pacific. I have seen it listed as Synchiropus splendidus but more
>  recently as Pterosynchiropus splendidus and am wondering which is the
>  official name. Any feedback on this issue is greatly appreciated.

This is a different question.  "Official" probably has nothing to do with
which name you should use.  Which genus a species belongs in is usually a
taxonomic issue and a matter of opinion.  There is no arbiter of most
questions of this sort.  In terms of genera, "splitters" recognize more of
them, each containing fewer species than "lumpers," who tend to put more
species in each of fewer genera.  I am unfamiliar with the taxonomy of
dragonettes so do not know the reason for some people placing the species
*splendidus* in the genus *Synchiropus* and others putting it in the genus
*Pterosynchiropus*.  Typically, however, names that are rooted in other
names came later and were erected to accommodate some of the species that
had been placed in the first genus.  So, in this case, the genus
*Synchiropus* might have contained species that differed so much that an
ichthyologist thought they should not all be placed in one genus (which
implies a close degree of evolutionary relationship) and so described a
new genus *Pterosynchiropus* for some of them.  Of course, other
ichthyologists who disagree would consider the later name a synonym of the
earlier one and thus use the earlier one.  Less commonly a name is found
to be a homonym or not to have met the provisions of the Code, and then
the species that had been associated with it are moved to another genus --
and in this case the transfer is not a matter of opinion, as it is in the
more common situation I described above.

>                                                  Thanks in advance,
>                                                  Pam

Daphne G. Fautin
Division of Biological Sciences
Haworth Hall
University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS 66045  USA

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