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expert taxonomists identifications

Harry A. ten Hove hove at bio.uva.nl
Wed Dec 13 06:18:19 EST 1995

In reply to G. Read's discussion contribution of Fri, 8 Dec 1995 22:46:
29 +1300 (NZD), which contained the following partly optimistic remark:

>When an expert has done the id there is usually no problem but most 
>polychaete ids aren't made by experts.... 

Challenged by Helmut Zibrowius, I endorse his views on "expert
identifications". I will even go further than he. Any identification is a
product of its epoch. Of course, when it is generally accepted that a
species is occurring world-wide (like "Serpula vermicularis" during the
last few decades), an identification of a large Serpula will end up with
the nominal taxon vermicularis. Nevertheless, from a biogeographic
perspective this is unlikely, and really looking at the material it is
evident that a complex of species is involved.  

Most "experts" have more material than they can handle, and tend to skip
corners whenever possible. A simplified example, which nevertheless may be
valid. The genus Filogranella was described in 1979. Its tube may show 5
longitudinal ridges, not unlike those in the serpulid Vermiliopsis. In
other characters there are some superficial similarities as well.
Preliminary identifications of this group in the field and during visits to
other musea were done upon the supposedly fairly characteristic tube
mainly, so any such identification from before 1979 only could have been
Vermiliopsis, but may include specimens of the untill than undescribed
Filogranella. Between 1979 and 1985 I used two characters for these hasty
field identifications: non-operculate, five keels = Filogranella;
operculate, five keels = Vermiliopsis. Around 1985 I found operculate
representatives of Filogranella, thus operculate specimens of "Vermiliopsis
spec." det. ten Hove 1979-1985 still might include Filogranella. Nowadays I
routinely use the uncini (specialised thoracic chaetae) in addition to
discriminate between the two genera, but I don't have the time to go back
upon the hundreds of previously identified samples. I don't think that many
mistakes like described above actually will have been made, the example
after all was simplified and I often do use not mentioned characters as
well, but cannot exclude the possibility either.

In my 30 years of serpulid experience, I have re-identified material of
almost all broad polychaete specialists like Augener, Day, Fauvel, Hartman,
Hartmann- Schroeder, McIntosh, Monro, Pettibone, Rioja, (and I certainly
are forgetting a few names), as well as that of more specializing, esteemed
colleagues like Bailey-Brock, Ben-Eliahu, Imajima, Knight-Jones, Pillai,
Zibrowius (and if I have omitted someone that does not mean that (s)he is
not esteemed nor that (s)he did not make mistakes), and last but certainly
not least ten Hove. I can assure that none of us is infallible. Some made
more mistakes than others, not every-one of us will have been a phylum
wrong in her/his identification (like Fauvel and Augener), not everyone
will use a book on the Mediterranean fauna for tropical material like
Fauvel did in his Fauna of India, but we all are overburdened with routine
identifications and will slip sometimes.

In conclusion, if "usually" would be defined as "in 80% of the cases", I
might agree with our discussion leader's statement >When an expert has done
the id there is usually no problem< 

I subscribe the intention of his remark
>but most polychaete ids aren't made by experts.... 
but see this as a challenge to us "experts" to produce more and better
review papers, or even better both papers and digitalized data-banks,
giving the non-experts better tools to unburden us of routine ids.
Harry A. ten Hove
Institute for Systematics and Populationbiology
Zoological Museum, University of Amsterdam
POB 94766, 1090 GT AMSTERDAM

tel. 3120 5256906
fax. 3120 5255402
Email: hove at bio.uva.nl

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