26 July 2011

The great golden digger wasp returns!

The great golden digger wasps (Sphex ichneumoneus), which I wrote about in a post last year on free will and the Concorde fallacy, returned this year to the same spot in front of Higley Hall at Kenyon College in the soft, gravelly soils under an overhang. A swarm of dedicated females has been entertaining our equally dedicated summer science students and visitors. The nest site is conveniently right outside large floor-to-ceiling windows, perfect for viewing the activity of this wasp species. Their short lives will come to an end soon, but they have been able to dig, provision, and complete dozens of burrows. Brava, wasps. I hope this site remains popular for the species for years to come.

21 July 2011

Botanists vote to allow online publication of new taxa

The excitement (and nervous uncertainty) is tangible on botanical taxonomy e-mail lists with the recent news that the nomenclature section of the International Botanical Congress, the governing body of the rules on how we describe new species and other taxa, voted at this year's Melbourne conference to drop the requirement that all new taxa must be described in print publications. If the rule is adopted by the whole Congress, we'll soon see new taxa being published in online-only peer-reviewed journals like PLoS ONE.

Much of the discussion on online-publishing has surrounded the necessity for proper archiving and a sense of permanence on an otherwise ephemeral online realm where the paradox that full permanence may not be achievable yet it's hard to completely erase some online substance reigns. Last year Sandra Knapp of London's Natural History Museum took this outdated policy to task and defiantly published four new species of Solanum in PLoS ONE. She was able to skirt the printed publication requirement by following the other International Code of Botanical Nomenclature rules that allowed her to print out at least 10 copies and distribute them to libraries and a central name index. If the full IBC follows suit and votes for this new rule allowing online publication of new species, no one will have to follow Knapp's example.

This issue had come up at the last Congress in Vienna six years ago, but online journals were just getting off the ground and archiving systems were either poorly managed or lacking entirely. Heck, I was still using Livejournal. A lot has changed in the past six years. The measure didn't pass in Vienna, which I think was the right decision. We waited long enough that the technology caught up to meet the rigorous demands of proper taxon description.
Levenhookia murfetii from Mount Lesueur, Western Australia
Lowrie A, and Conran JG. 2011. Triggerplant Journal 1 (2): 4-29.

ResearchBlogging.orgIn a related matter, I recently noticed that noted Australian botanist Allen Lowrie, famous for his carnivorous plant descriptions, has described a new species of stylewort (Levenhookia) in the online-only Triggerplant Journal (Volume 1, Number 2), founded by Douglas Darnowski and Greg Bourke. It's beautifully illustrated with lovely photos, but as far as I can tell, and even though the journal has an ISSN, the description by Lowrie and his colleague John G. Conran of the new species Levenhookia murfetii (named in honor of Denzel E. Murfet) is not "effective" yet. And so until the new rules from the IBC go into force, all publications of new taxa should still be in print, or at the very least Lowrie and Conran need to print out ten copies of their article from the journal and submit it to libraries and one index, just as Sandra Knapp did with her Solanum species. It may be early to judge based on this, but so far the name Levenhookia murfetii has not been entered into the International Plant Names Index.

Update (27 July 2011): I recently heard from Greg Bourke, one of the publishers of the Triggerplant Journal, that the description of the new species Levenhookia murfetii was indeed printed out and distributed to validate the description. This is good news for this particular description. Perhaps IPNI is just behind on updating the database.

Now the zoologists can sit back and be jealous of the botanists, since the ICBN's zoological counterpart, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, has been considering such an amendment to their rules since 2008 but it has not yet taken any action. I'm okay with this.

Lowrie, A., & Conran, J.G. (2011). An overview of the Australian Levenhookia (Stylidiaceae) complex, including a new species (L. murfetii) and observations on the triggering methods employed for pollination and outcrossing. Triggerplant Journal, 1 (2), 4-29