Faunal studies and uninomials

Sabine Cochrane Sabine.Cochrane at akvaplan.niva.no
Wed Jun 28 18:48:58 EST 2000

Just some thoughts (without meaning to over-extend this discussion..) -  I'll 
assume two main aims for faunal analyses (aside from mapping studies) 
are: 1) to describe the type and 'function' of faunal assemblages using 
knowledge of the habitat preferences of the sampled taxa and 2) to 
document the distribution of individuals within taxa and any statistical 
correlations with other variables.  

In 1), taxon names are simply a shorthand way of conveying information 
about organisms. The level of detail required depends on the audience. We 
communicate quite well with uninomial common names, so I personally 
don't have a problem talking about an area dominated by the 
suspensivorous fanworm Papillosa (Euchone, Sabellinae, Sabellidae) Sars, 
1851. By writing Papillosa (E. or whatever) with a capital P, I communicate 
that there are other lower taxa within Papillosa, (currently a complicated list 
of much-changed 'sub-species' names and synonyms). The level of 
Papillosa might be enough for an ecological study. In a taxonomic study, 
we might wish to address the least inclusive taxonomic units (LITU, Peijel & 
Rouse 2000) within Papillosa. We can choose the inclusiveness of the 
group according to the level of detail required, and happily, all levels say 
something about relationships. Aha, an ecological study looking at real 

In 2), taxon names are used as statistical units, in which case uninomials
and binomials function equally well, the computer doesn't notice the
difference. The more inclusive taxa also would be entered into the database,
just exactly as for today's higher taxa. The operator is given the LITU,
together with the more inclusive taxon names, so I doubt if those
interpreting the results will notice too much difference either. It may end
in a discussion of the order of the columns containing the LITUs and more
inclusive taxon names, but the faunal information is the same. 

Compiling long-term faunal data-series is an ecologist's nightmare, due to 
nomenclatural changes and between-operator differences in detail. The 
LITU concept may just simplify standardisation of faunal lists because the 
definition of the taxon names do not change, only their inclusiveness. 
Names may be added to increase the information content, but names don't 
change as such. The feared situation of ecologists not recognising 'new' 
names for taxa just won't occur, because any additional clade names are 
always accompanied by the existing ones. For those wishing to squeeze 
taxon names into a convenient artificial hierarchy, then of course a flexible 
uninomial system is awkward, because faunal analyses cannot be done at 
pre-defined higher taxonomic 'levels'. But then, those interested in a 
meaningful assessment of groups of taxa won't be doing this anyway.  

with best wishes,

Sabine Cochrane 
p.s. I don't usually call myself Cochrane Sabine, but even so, it wouldn't
change my identity or my behaviour ;-)

Sabine Cochrane
Polar Environmental Centre
9296 Tromsø

Tlf: +47 777 50327
Fax: +47 777 50301
email: Sabine.Cochrane at akvaplan.niva.no
see also: http://www.akvaplan.niva.no/

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