Species description

A species description is a formal description of a newly discovered species, usually in the form of a scientific paper. Its purpose is to give a clear description of a new species of organism and explain how it differs from species which have been described previously or are related. The species description often contains photographs or other illustrations of the type material and states in which museums it has been deposited. The publication in which the species is described gives the new species a formal scientific name. Some 1.9 million species have been identified and described, out of some 8.7 million that may actually exist.[1] Millions more have become extinct.

Naming process

A name of a new species becomes valid (available in zoological terminology) with the date of publication of its formal scientific description. Once the scientist has performed the necessary research to determine that the discovered organism represents a new species, the scientific results are summarized in a scientific manuscript, either as part of a book, or as a paper to be submitted to a scientific journal.

A scientific species description must fulfill several formal criteria specified by the nomenclature codes, e.g. selection of at least one type specimen. These criteria are intended to ensure that the species name is clear and unambiguous, for example, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) states that "Authors should exercise reasonable care and consideration in forming new names to ensure that they are chosen with their subsequent users in mind and that, as far as possible, they are appropriate, compact, euphonious, memorable, and do not cause offence."[2]

Species names are written in the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, but many species names are based on words from other languages, Latinized.

Once the manuscript has been accepted for publication,[3] the new species name is officially created.

Once a species name has been assigned and approved, it can generally not be changed except in the case of error. For example, a species of beetle (Anophthalmus hitleri) was named by a German collector after Adolf Hitler in 1933 when he had recently become chancellor of Germany.[4] It is not clear whether such a dedication would be considered acceptable or appropriate today, but the name remains in use.[4]

Species names have been chosen on many different bases. Most common is a naming for the species' external appearance, its origin, or the species name is a dedication for a certain person. Examples would include a bat species named for the two stripes on its back (Saccopteryx bilineata), a frog named for its Bolivian origin (Phyllomedusa boliviana), and an ant species dedicated to the actor Harrison Ford (Pheidole harrisonfordi). A scientific name in honor of a person or persons is a known as a taxonomic patronym or patronymic.[5][6]

A number of humorous species names also exist. Literary examples include the genus name Borogovia (an extinct dinosaur), which is named after the borogove, a mythical character from Lewis Carrol's poem "Jabberwocky". A second example, Macrocarpaea apparata (a tall plant) was named after the magical spell "to apparate" from the Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling, as it seemed to appear out of nowhere.[7] In 1975, the British naturalist Peter Scott proposed the binomial name Nessiteras rhombopteryx ("Ness monster with diamond-shaped fin") for the Loch Ness Monster; it was soon spotted that it was an anagram of "Monster hoax by Sir Peter S".

Species names recognizing benefactors

Species have frequently been named by scientists in recognition of supporters and benefactors. For example, the genus Victoria (a flowering waterplant) was named in honour of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. More recently, a species of lemur (Avahi cleesei) was named after the actor John Cleese in recognition of his work to publicize the plight of lemurs in Madagascar.

Non-profit ecological organizations may also allow benefactors to name new species in exchange for financial support for taxonomic research and nature conservation. A German non-profit organisation (gemeinnütziger Verein), BIOPAT - Patrons for Biodiversity has raised more than $450,000 for research and conservation through sponsorship of over 100 species using this model.[8] An individual example of this system is the Callicebus aureipalatii (or "monkey of the Golden Palace"), which was named after the Golden Palace casino in recognition of a $650,000 contribution to the Madidi National Park in Bolivia in 2005.[9]

The International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICN) discourages this practice somewhat: "Recommendation 20A. Authors forming generic names should comply with the following ... (h) Not dedicate genera to persons quite unconcerned with botany, mycology, phycology, or natural science in general."[10]

History of species descriptions

Linné-Systema Naturae 1735
Original title page of Linnaeus's Systema Naturae, published in 1735.

Early biologists often published entire volumes or multiple-volume works of descriptions in an attempt to catalog all known species. These catalogs typically featured extensive descriptions of each species and were often illustrated upon reprinting.

The first of these large catalogs was Aristotle's History of Animals, published around 343 B.C. Aristotle included descriptions of creatures, mostly fish and invertebrates, in his homeland, and several mythological creatures rumored to live in far-away lands, such as the manticore.

In 77 A.D. Pliny the Elder dedicated several volumes of his Natural History to the description of all life forms he knew to exist. He appears to have read Aristotle's work, since he writes about many of the same far-away mythological creatures.

Toward the end of the 12th century, Konungs skuggsjá, an Old Norse philosophical didactic work, featured several descriptions of the whales, seals, and monsters of the Icelandic seas. These descriptions were brief and often erroneous, and a description of the mermaid and a rare island-like sea monster called Hafgufu was included. The author was hesitant to mention the beast (known today to be fictitious) for fear of its size, but felt it was important enough to be included in his descriptions.[11]

However, the earliest recognized species authority is Linnaeus, who standardized the modern taxonomy system beginning with his Systema Naturae in 1735.[12]

As the catalog of known species was increasing rapidly, it became impractical to maintain a single work documenting every species. Publishing a paper documenting a single species was much faster and could be done by scientists with less broadened scopes of study. For example, a scientist who discovered a new species of insect would not need to understand plants, or frogs, or even insects which did not resemble the species, but would only need to understand closely related insects.

Modern species descriptions

Formal species descriptions today follow strict guidelines set forth by the codes of nomenclature. Very detailed formal descriptions are made by scientists, who usually study the organism closely for a considerable time. A diagnosis may be used instead of,[13] or as well as[14] the description. A diagnosis specifies the distinction between the new species and other species.

Rates of species description

According to the RetroSOS report,[15] the following numbers of species have been described each year since 2000.

Year Total number of species descriptions New insect species described
2000 17,045 8,241
2001 17,003 7,775
2002 16,990 8,723
2003 17,357 8,844
2004 17,381 9,127
2005 16,424 8,485
2006 17,659 8,994
2007 18,689 9,651
2008 18,225 8,794
2009 19,232 9,738

See also


  1. ^ Mora, C.; et al. (August 23, 2011). "How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?". PLoS Biology. 9: e1001127. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127. PMC 3160336. PMID 21886479.
  2. ^ "International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, Recommendation 25C". Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  3. ^ One example of an abstract of an article naming a new species can be found at Wellner, S.; Lodders, N.; Kampfer, P. (13 June 2011). "Methylobacterium cerastii sp. nov., isolated from the leaf surface of Cerastium holosteoides". International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. 62 (Pt 4): 917–924. doi:10.1099/ijs.0.030767-0. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  4. ^ a b "A beetle called Hitler". Rose George. 13 April 2002.
  5. ^ Capinera, John L., ed. (2008). Encyclopedia of Entomology (2nd ed.). Dordrecht: Springer. p. 2765. ISBN 1402062427.
  6. ^ Strahan, Ronald; Conder, Pamela, eds. (2007). Dictionary of Australian and New Guinean Mammals. Collingwood, Victoria: Csiro Publishing. p. 15.
  7. ^ "Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature". Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  8. ^ "Financing conservation efforts by selling naming rights of new species". Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  9. ^ "Internet casino buys monkey naming rights". MSNBC. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  10. ^ (McNeill et al. 2012)
  11. ^ Konungs skuggsjá (in Norwegian).
  12. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1735). Systema Naturae.
  13. ^ (McNeill et al. 2012, Article 38)
  14. ^ International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (1999). "International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, Fourth Edition, adopted by the International Union of Biological Sciences". article 13
  15. ^ Quentin Wheeler; Sara Pennak (January 18, 2012). Retro SOS 2000-2009: A Decade of Species Discovery in Review (Report). International Institute for Species Exploration, Arizona State University. Retrieved April 25, 2013.


Other sources

  • Winston, Judith E. 1999. Describing Species: Practical Taxonomic Procedure For Biologists. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06824-7

External links

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Pensoft Publishers

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In biology, a species (/ˈspiːʃiːz/ (listen)) is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined. While these definitions may seem adequate, when looked at more closely they represent problematic species concepts. For example, the boundaries between closely related species become unclear with hybridisation, in a species complex of hundreds of similar microspecies, and in a ring species. Also, among organisms that reproduce only asexually, the concept of a reproductive species breaks down, and each clone is potentially a microspecies.

All species (except viruses) are given a two-part name, a "binomial". The first part of a binomial is the genus to which the species belongs. The second part is called the specific name or the specific epithet (in botanical nomenclature, also sometimes in zoological nomenclature). For example, Boa constrictor is one of four species of the genus Boa.

None of these is entirely satisfactory definitions, but scientists and conservationists need a species definition which allows them to work, regardless of the theoretical difficulties. If species were fixed and clearly distinct from one another, there would be no problem, but evolutionary processes cause species to change continually, and to grade into one another.

Species were seen from the time of Aristotle until the 18th century as fixed kinds that could be arranged in a hierarchy, the great chain of being. In the 19th century, biologists grasped that species could evolve given sufficient time. Charles Darwin's 1859 book The Origin of Species explained how species could arise by natural selection. That understanding was greatly extended in the 20th century through genetics and population ecology. Genetic variability arises from mutations and recombination, while organisms themselves are mobile, leading to geographical isolation and genetic drift with varying selection pressures. Genes can sometimes be exchanged between species by horizontal gene transfer; new species can arise rapidly through hybridisation and polyploidy; and species may become extinct for a variety of reasons. Viruses are a special case, driven by a balance of mutation and selection, and can be treated as quasispecies.

Specific name (zoology)

In zoological nomenclature, the specific name (also specific epithet or species epithet) is the second part (the second name) within the scientific name of a species (a binomen). The first part of the name of a species is the name of the genus or the generic name. The rules and regulations governing the giving of a new species name are explained in the article species description.


The scientific name for humans is Homo sapiens, which is the species name, consisting of two names: Homo is the "generic name" (the name of the genus) and sapiens is the "specific name".

Stejneger's beaked whale

Stejneger's beaked whale (Mesoplodon stejnegeri), also known as the Bering Sea beaked whale or the saber-toothed whale, is a relatively unknown member of the genus Mesoplodon inhabiting the northern North Pacific Ocean. Leonhard Hess Stejneger collected the type specimen (a beach-worn skull) on Bering Island in 1883, from which Frederick W. True provided the species' description in 1885. In 1904, the first complete skull (from an adult male that had stranded near Newport, Oregon) was collected, which confirmed the species' validity. The most noteworthy characteristic of the males is the very large, saber-like teeth, hence the name.

Taxonomy (biology)

In biology, taxonomy (from Ancient Greek τάξις (taxis), meaning 'arrangement', and -νομία (-nomia), meaning 'method') is the science of defining and naming groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics. Organisms are grouped together into taxa (singular: taxon) and these groups are given a taxonomic rank; groups of a given rank can be aggregated to form a super-group of higher rank, thus creating a taxonomic hierarchy. The principal ranks in modern use are domain, kingdom, phylum (division is sometimes used in botany in place of phylum), class, order, family, genus, and species. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is regarded as the founder of the current system of taxonomy, as he developed a system known as Linnaean taxonomy for categorizing organisms and binomial nomenclature for naming organisms.

With the advent of such fields of study as phylogenetics, cladistics, and systematics, the Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct.

Type (biology)

In biology, a type is a particular specimen (or in some cases a group of specimens) of an organism to which the scientific name of that organism is formally attached. In other words, a type is an example that serves to anchor or centralize the defining features of that particular taxon. In older usage (pre-1900 in botany), a type was a taxon rather than a specimen.A taxon is a scientifically named grouping of organisms with other like organisms, a set that includes some organisms and excludes others, based on a detailed published description (for example a species description) and on the provision of type material, which is usually available to scientists for examination in a major museum research collection, or similar institution.

Species description
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