Re: NANFA-- Esox "lacustris"

Christopher Scharpf (
Tue, 18 Jul 2000 17:40:24 -0400

>Thanks Chris, I really appreciate the info! How does the commision catalog
>or document their rulings?


The ICZN publishes a journal of its rulings.

>Is there a "catalog" of approved names?

If you're asking if there's a definitive catalog of all "approved" fish names
(i.e., valid species and subspecies), then the answer's no. The closest is the
California of Academy of Science's Catalog of Fish database, which lists ALL
names ever proposed for fishes. A note mentions whether the name is valid,
invalid, or a synonym. The database is available at the CAS website, but don't
bother if you're looking for a list of, for example, all valid darter species.
The database is not set up that way.

The trouble with assembling any kind of definitive fish list is that such a list
s only definitive for about 2.3 seconds. First of all, new fish species are
being described all the time, on the order of 300 or so per year. And fishes
that were thought to represent wide-ranging, taxonomically stable species are
now being found to comprise complexes of cryptic yet separate species. (The
masquinonge is an example of a putative cryptic species.)

Taxonomy is also a subjective science. What one peer-reviewed article may accept
as a valid species, another peer-reviewed article may challenge or debunk. Which
means that at any one time there may be 2 or more perfectly well-reasoned yet
contradictory interpretations of a particular taxon. Over time, these seeming
discrepancies eventually shake themselves out. (Part of the problem too is that
biologists still disagree as to what defines a "species.")

And, finally, taxonomy is also dynamic science, which means that the names of
organisms frequency change for a variety of reasons, all of which have merit and
are not just done arbitrarily to confound aquarists. One thing that helps
explain all the seeming inexplicable name changes (especially among killies) is
the fact that names are more than what to call something; they also provide a
clue or handle as to a fish's evolutionary relationships. Taxonomists today are
seeking generic names based on monophyletic units, that is, groupings of fishes
that share the same single direct ancestor.

Look in your older fish books and you'll see that virtually all shiners have the
generic name of Notropis. Now there's Pteronotropis, Hybopsis, Cyprinella,
Macrhybopsis, etc. Is this more confusing or less confusing? I guess it depends
on your perspective. If you don't work with these names everyday, than having to
remember 6 or so names in addition to Notropis is a pain. But if you're studying
minnow evolution, or even breeding behavior, then the multiplicity of names is
quite helpful. The name Cyprinella, for instance, lets you know that these
minnows are all more closely related to each other than to other shiner-like
minnows. And it's also more convenient to say that all Cyprinella are crevice
spawners, as opposed to saying this bunch of Notropis species are crevice
spawners and this group of Notropis species isn't.

I hope this is making some sense.


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