Some ornithologists have very strong feelings about hyphens.
March 2, 2017 8:09 PM   Subscribe

An ostrich is definitely not a bald eagle, nor is a Canada goose a mallard. But the closer you zoom, the fuzzier things get. Are the Striolated Puffbirds of the western Amazon who stutter at the start of their songs different enough from other Striolated Puffbirds to merit full species status? What is a species, exactly, and where do the lines between one and another lie?
posted by Chrysostom (8 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
That kind of argument belongs on The Blue. Mods, how can we invite these scientists?

Do they have any opinion on the meaning of the word viking?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:29 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

God dammit, the article kept throwing Matthew Mcconaughey at me. Stupid ad format.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:31 PM on March 2, 2017

I am an editor and a birder, and yet I could not make it past the second paragraph of the pro-hyphen (pdf) article, let alone its rebuttal. Sigh.
posted by rtha at 8:44 PM on March 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

merit full species status?

Yes, definitely, give them full species status. Have you seen how many species went extinct in the last ten years? We've got to turn those numbers around ASAP.
posted by BinGregory at 10:07 PM on March 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

See also capitalization of common names, which I note this article seems to avoid taking a consistent stance on.
posted by TedW at 6:50 AM on March 3, 2017

As a Haworthia collector I love this stuff. There are not many people working on Haworthia taxonony. Maybe 2 or 3 real experts and some other botanists who dabble but there are thousands of collectors. The top expert from South Africa, where the plants are indigenous, is a really cranky old man who appears to have been driven insane by the quixotic quest to scientifically delineate species according to a probably undefinable species concept (botany doesn't have quite as clear of a biological species concept). Reading his work is an exercise in confusion, obscuritanism and Cartmanesque 'respect my authority'. He definitely falls into the lumper category and tends to group plants that bear the slightest physical resemblance into the same species. Disagree with him and you will be on the receiving end of a lengthy rant full of Ad hominem attacks and threats that he will take his ball and go home.

Meanwhile there is a Japanese botanist who splits things so easily that his species list probably contains thousands of individual plants and who publishes in a one man vanity press pseudo-academic haworthia journal.

Then there are the hundreds of cultivars, cultigens and selected clones....which are largely ignored by botanists as they are not 'true species' but are loved by hobbyists and bought and sold around the world for hundreds of dollars.

To make matters even worse there is no overarching authority to make decisions for everyone for the sake of clarity. Maybe SANBI, South African National Biodiversity Institute, but that is rejected or at best grudgingly accepted but actively undermined by the top south African expert who used to collaborate with them (until they failed to respect his authority no doubt). Haworthia as a genus was recently proposed for splitting into the three different genera; Haworthia, Haworthiaopsis and Tulista. Will it be adopted? Some people have switched and some people haven't and it is unclear how the decision will be made.

Me, I just want to know what to call my plants and what other plants are called so that I can know what I am collecting and swapping.
posted by srboisvert at 7:29 AM on March 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

“We’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation. That’s all taxonomy is,” says James “Van” Remsen, the SACC’s chairman. Of the various “species concepts” in taxonomy that attempt to answer these questions, the SACC relies most heavily on the “biological species concept,” which basically defines a species as a group of things that only breed with each other. “We’re trying to apply artificial barriers on a continuum,” Remsen acknowledges. “It’s all kind of silly. … The emotions that are involved in some of these decisions are really kind of out of proportion.”

This astonishing paragraph is composed almost entirely of MeFi taglines, viz:

MetaFilter: We’re just trying to make the best of a bad situation.
MetaFilter: A group of things that only breed with each other.
MetaFilter: Artificial barriers on a continuum.
MetaFilter: The emotions that are involved in some of these decisions are really kind of out of proportion.

And, of course,

MetaFilter: It’s all kind of silly.
posted by The Bellman at 7:53 AM on March 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

It's interesting going from birds to herps to fish and seeing the continuum of naming processes. Birds have such a formal system including official English names. Fish, on the other hand, seem to have constantly changing scientific names and they all have the same common name. Or a common name that's 'definitely not a lion, less than dandy'. At least the academic fisheries journals are finally adapting capitalized common names. If you think it's not important, may I introduce you to redheads and big buffalo?

My only worry about birds is that loons will get renamed divers for a bad reason (they were named divers in Europe before being named loons in North America so technically that's their correct name but all but one of the loons only occur in North America and ugh, diver is just a silly name (I mean loon is too but it's better, shutupitmakessense)). See also guillemots which are not the same in North America and Europe and they better not switch the North American names.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

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