Taxonomy and Notes From Nature

A few volunteers have recently asked some questions about taxonomy in Notes From Nature. This seems to be a big question that comes up as part of the herbarium interface since this is one of the two collections where volunteers are asked to transcribe the scientific name that is present on the label.

Most of the questions and comments are about accepted versus unaccepted names. Before we get into that issue, let touch on the task that is being completed. Volunteers are asked to transcribe the scientific name (usually just genus and specific epithet) without the authorship of the name as it appears on the label. The genus and specific epithet are transcribed into the “Scientific Name” field. Here is an example:

Saccharum giganteum (Walter) Pers.

Saccharum is the genus.

giganteum is the specific epithet, sometime called species name.

(Walter) Pers. is the authorship for the name.

The authorship can be left off since this saves time and can most of the time be easily looked up automatically by querying existing databases. Another potential complication is that sometimes authorship is abbreviated and sometime not. For example, “L.” is the same as “Linnaeus.”

Databases such as ITIS list plant names as being ‘accepted’ or ‘ not accepted’. This terminology is a bit confusing for a few reasons. First, accepted names are neither static nor are they absolute; they are open to different opinions by different experts and what is accepted today may be different from what is accepted a year from now. These differences usually reflect new studies or information about the relationships among different taxa. The other issue is that one source may accept one name while another accepts a different one. Here is an example:

Saccharum giganteum is accepted by ITIS, but is not by Weakley’s Flora. Weakley considers Saccharum giganteum to be synonym of Erianthus giganteus while the opposite if true for ITIS. Both sources agree that the two names exist, but they have different opinions about which is currently accepted.

Saccharum giganteum, Sunnybell Prairie, Coosa Valle Prairies, Floyd County, Georgia 1

We are very excited to see folks doing some research about these names. At Notes From Nature we strongly encourage our volunteers to learn more about the work that we do and hope that everyone learns something about museums and biodiversity as part of the process. Below are a few links where volunteers can look up more information about the different taxa that they encounter, but there is no need to include that information in the transcription or Talk page. However, there are at least two exceptions to this. First would be the discovery of a misspelling or typo. Any scientific names that you discover to be misspelled should be corrected in the transcription. The other would be if you have a question, concern, noted some other oddity on the label, or just want to chat about something you have seen.

Resources:

Flora of North America: http://efloras.org/flora_page.aspx?flora_id=1

The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS): http://www.itis.gov/

Encyclopedia of Life: http://eol.org/

The PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/

Notes From Nature volunteer Mr Kevvy’s has generated a very useful set of custom dictionaries. They can be found here: http://www.baldurdash.org/Herbarium&MacrofungiWordListDictionary5.1.zip

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