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Taxonomy

Species can be named from photos

As an international group of taxonomists who study a range of taxa, we consider that you misconstrued the case of a new insect species that was described on the basis of photographs (see Nature 535, 323–324; 2016).

The species was described without a preserved type specimen, the individuals having escaped before preservation (S. A. Marshall and N. L. Evenhuis ZooKeys 525, 117–127; 2015). The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature allows for this — the authors (included here as signatories) followed the letter and the spirit of the Code, giving a description and a formal species name. It was based on material that supported their conclusions and an explanation of the circumstances to justify naming a species without an extant type. Peer reviewers judged the data sufficiently reliable to anchor a species name.

As you point out, a physical specimen has features that might not be captured in a photo. However, types are name-bearers, not “standards for species delimitation” (D. S. Amorim et al. Zootaxa 4137, 121–128; 2016). Significant knowledge about a species may build up before we can properly preserve a name-bearing type. The Code allows for the naming of those species.

More than 90% of the planetary biota still awaits description. We need to adopt new technologies while recognizing that museum specimens and nomenclatural stability are crucial for taxonomy.

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Correspondence to Thomas Pape.

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Pape, T. Species can be named from photos. Nature 537, 307 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/537307b

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