Systema Naturae 250: The Linnaean Ark



Systema Naturae 250: The Linnaean Ark edited by Andrew Polaszek . CRC Press , 2010 . xvi + 276 pp. Hardback. ISBN : 978-1-4200-9501-2 . £63.99 or $99.95 .

Published, as the title suggests, as the result of a symposium to mark the anniversary of first publication of Linnaeus's magnum opus, this collection of papers by 25 authors surveys the development of the Linnaean system of binomial nomenclature and the impact of new technologies on this enduring but adaptable system for naming and understanding the living world. After a pithy introduction by E.O. Wilson, the first two chapters deal with Linnaeus himself and one of his under-rated pupils, Daniel Rolander. There follows a substantial chapter by Gordon Reid on the need for taxonomy to underpin studies of threatened species of animals, illustrating how taxonomic changes can destabilise conservation threat assessments. A short chapter by Quentin Wheeler addresses some issues of cybertaxonomy, with a handsome diagram which likens a team of international experts to a set of orbiting electrons surrounding a nucleus of infrastructural elements such as specimens, databases and analysis software (but without the ‘shells’ denoting different orbital energy levels, an interesting concept if applied to cohorts of working taxonomists!).

The next chapter argues that the type method, when applied to marine molluscs, can be an impediment to biodiversity studies, and suggests that a malacological revolution may be required with designated epitypes replacing unsatisfactory, or in some cases untraceable, holotypes. There follows another jointly authored chapter on Diptera names, plotting accumulation curves of new species and describing the biosystematic database of world Diptera. Sandy Knapp and Debbie Wright discuss e-publication, where the race to modernise the codes seems to have been won by the botanists, but where other impediments to electronic publishing still exist.

Another perspective on ‘reviving descriptive taxonomy’ is provided by Zhi-Qiang Zhang, founder of the innovative journal Zootaxa, whose rapid growth is a sign that there was an urgent need for a more speedy and efficient method of publishing new species. An accompanying figure shows that the preponderance of contributions to the journal comes from Europe and Latin America, followed by North America and Asia. The pressing need to reinforce ‘strongholds of human capacity in taxonomy’, a potent phrase, in countries of high biodiversity is amply demonstrated by these statistics.

The remaining symposium papers deal with various aspects of improving methods for handling nomenclature and developing new tools for taxonomists. Given that the editor of this volume works in the forefront of such developments through his involvement with ZooBank and the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, this emphasis is most appropriate; and the penultimate chapter, by Benoît Dayrat, outlining the complex history of nomenclatural codes in Zoology and the dilemma posed by coexisting codes, will be of particular value to those who are trying to understand how we arrived at the present rather complex position.

CRC Press knows how to charge, and the price of this casebound book is rather high, reflecting perhaps the specialist nature of its readership, but the book is nicely printed with a semi-abstract painting of bones on its front cover and a collection of logos of the symposium's sponsors on the rear cover. It represents a substantial contribution to the ongoing debate on nomenclatural modernisation, and can be recommended to taxonomic research institutes worldwide.