The fate of the early adopters

Land, J. van der Land at naturalis.nnm.nl
Wed Sep 15 17:05:57 EST 1999


Nishikawa's discovery (1998) that Echiuridae Blainville, 1828 is not available 
and should correctly be cited as Echiuridae Quatrefages, 1847, is indeed 
somewhat disturbing. Thalassematidae Forbes & Goodsir, 1841 is generally 
considered a synonym (sometimes as subfamily Thalassematinae) and 
consequently should have priority over Echiuridae. Nishikawa did not make 
this conclusion and I think he is right. This is typically a case that should be 
brought to the ICZN, which will certainly safe Echiuridae. "The Principle of 
Priority is to be used to promote stability and is not intended to be used to 
upset a long-accepted name in its accustomed meaning ..."  

I do not agree with Geoff''s statement "Above the family level can be a 
degree of anarchy and creativity, and nobody minds much". This is a great 
nuissance to the user community. Taxonomists have a strong tendency to 
change names and they are not that much interested in stability. They can 
not be very creative at the species level but they are totally free at the family 
and genus level (erecting new families and genera is about the easiest thing 
to do because you need not look at specimens). However, above the family 
level there is even more anarchy because everybody is allowed to change 
names.  

During my editorial work for the Unesco-IOC Register of Marine Organisms 
I had to look at all groups and found changes of names to be very common 
and almost always unneeded. The reasons given are often very odd. The 
name Echiura is a good example. When Stephen died in 1966 he left an 
unfinished manuscript of a monograph on the "Gephyrea". In this he had 
changed the names Sipunculida, Echiurida and Priapulida into Sipuncula, 
Echiura and Priapula. He gave as a reason that the english equivalents were 
the same as for the families Sipunculidae, Echiuridae and Priapulidae, 
although it is unlikely that vernacular names will ever be needed for these 
families. I took over the Priapulida and retained that name but Edmonds 
accepted the changes when finishing the bulk of the manuscript (1972).  

A great disadvantage of changes of names is that many groups are being 
mentioned in the litterature by two different names during a long period of 
time. It cost Cnidaria over 40 years to take over from Coelenterata and 
Scleractinia's victory over Madreporaria took a similar period. The user 
community would be served best if taxonomists applied the rules of the ICZN 
code for the higher groups as well, whenever possible.  



Dr Jacob van der Land
National Museum of Natural History - Naturalis
Leiden  - the Netherlands
e-mail: land at naturalis.nnm.nl

editor of Unesco-IOC Register of Marine Organisms (URMO):
http://www2.eti.uva.nl/database/urmo/default.html


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