[Coral-List] 2. Taxonomy issues (Ivan Murillo)

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Sat Jan 5 21:31:53 EST 2013

      There are also a variety of field guides, many of which are books, on
specific sets of organisms, such as corals, fish, invertebrates, algae,
etc.  Some are for specific regions.  Regional guides can help you narrow
down your search for your species.  Guides by taxonomic experts are more
authoritative and likely to have many fewer errors than those by people
without taxonomic knowledge of the group of organisms.  It is not enough to
take pretty pictures, that is actually the easy part.  The same is true of
online databases, they are no better than the information they are based
on, and the expertise in the particular group of the people who put them
      A different level of work that is useful for identification is the
taxonomic literature, including monographs or revisions of groups of
species, and original descriptions of new species, and other taxonomic
works.  Genetics papers are also becoming important, though the definition
of a species name rarely includes any genetics.
      Another level is museum specimens.  Ordinary museums specimens may be
correctly identified or incorrectly identified.  Species are defined based
on type specimens, so type specimens can be the ultimate reference in
trying to identify species (in other cases the type specimen has been lost
but the original description is very clear and there is no doubt what it
refers to, so the original description is then the ultimate reference).
For many or most species, there is only one type specimen, and it will be
in one museum in the world, if it has not been lost.  Note that there are
many species names which most taxonomists no longer recognize as valid, and
most of those will have type specimens as well somewhere.  Many species
names are no longer recognized as valid, because someone else named the
species first, and the first name applied according to the rules is the
correct name.  A few museums now have pictures online of a few type
specimens, for instance the Smithsonian now has photographs posted on its
website of all the coral type specimens in its collection (whether you
recognize them as valid species names or not- that is up to you and other
    If you pursue each species through the field guides to the taxonomic
monographs to the original descriptions and type specimens, you will have
become a taxonomic expert.  Even on a small group of organisms like the
reef building corals or the genus Acropora, that can be a life's work.

Cheers,  Doug

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