Among the things that have arisen in the aftermath of the terrible fire this month in Brazil's Museu Nacional - a tragedy that affects many in the global scientific community - are numerous public comments regarding the loss of the thousands of holotype specimens housed in Rio, and how difficult it will be to replace them all. The latter assertion - implying or claiming that all of the lost types will need to be replaced - is inaccurate, and those of us serving on the ICZN (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature) feel that it is essential to provide accurate information to counteract some of these well-intentioned but slightly misleading comments. Our aim is not to dismiss the concerns of those who are worried about the consequences of losing so many type specimens, but to reassure people that only a fraction of those lost types actually require replacement, in no small part due to the commendable foresight of curators and researchers who recorded digital images of many of those types.
Accordingly, I and a number of other Commissioners have drafted an advisory document outlining what the ICZN Code actually says regarding the replacement of lost types, emphasizing that the situation surrounding each individual type must be taken into account, and only in exceptional cases is it possible to designate a replacement (neotype); doing so requires very explicit justification and documentation. It is entirely likely that only a small fraction of the holotypes that have been lost will fulfill the necessary criteria, thus greatly reducing the burden on the taxonomic community. The task will not be easy, but it will not be as comprehensive or labor-intensive as many have assumed.
For those of you who have an interest in this matter, please see
There are, inevitably, parts of the Code that can be easily
overlooked, easily misinterpreted, or fairly subjective. The
purpose of this particular document is to serve for clarification
and as a practical guideline. It does not, in any way, supercede
the "legislative" text of the Code itself, which is appended -
unaltered - at the end of the document, and also available at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/hosted-sites/iczn/code/
in its entirety. We would urge people in particular to note the
various provisions of Article 75.3, especially 75.3.6 and 75.3.7.
Please do bear in mind that the rules concerning neotype
designations are explicitly intended to ensure a measure of
quality control over the process, and prevent abuses of the
system; every one of these rules is in place for a good reason.
Most of these rules have been unchanged (or even slightly relaxed)
since at least the 1961 edition of the Code, if not earlier, and
they have served the community well thus far.
If you read through the document and still are uncertain about anything, I and the other Commissioners are generally available to answer questions. We would certainly prefer to spend a little effort to address taxonomists' concerns before any types are replaced, rather than after.
PLEASE do pass this message on to colleagues who might benefit from this information, including other mailing lists or social media groups where this topic is of broad interest. This document may eventually be published, but broad dissemination of the information now will still be beneficial, especially given that publications have a much smaller reach than mailing lists and social media, and also given how quickly, and widely, inaccurate assumptions and claims have already been distributed.
Sincerely, Doug Yanega
-- Doug Yanega Dept. of Entomology Entomology Research Museum Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314 skype: dyanega phone: (951) 827-4315 (disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's) http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82