Nomenclatural benchmarking: the roles of digital typification and telemicroscopy

TitleNomenclatural benchmarking: the roles of digital typification and telemicroscopy
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsWheeler, Q., Bourgoin T., Coddington J., Gostony T., Hamilton A., Larimer R., Polaszek A., Schauff M., and Solis M.A.
Start Page193
Date Published2012
AbstractNomenclatural benchmarking is the periodic realignment of species names with species theories and is necessary for the accurate and uniform use of Linnaean binominals in the face of changing species limits. Gaining access to types, often for little more than a cursory examination by an expert, is a major bottleneck in the advance and availability of biodiversity informatics. For the nearly two million described species it has been estimated that five to six million name-bearing type specimens exist, including those for synonymized binominals. Recognizing that examination of types in person will remain necessary in special cases, we propose a four-part strategy for opening access to types that relies heavily on digitization and that would eliminate much of the bottleneck: (1) modify codes of nomenclature to create registries of nomenclatural acts, such as the proposed ZooBank, that include a requirement for digital representations (e-types) for all newly described species to avoid adding to backlog; (2) an “r” strategy that would engineer and deploy a network of automated instruments capable of rapidly creating 3-D images of type specimens not requiring participation of taxon experts; (3) a “K” strategy using remotely operable microscopes to engage taxon experts in targeting and annotating informative characters of types to supplement and extend information content of rapidly acquired e-types, a process that can be done on an as-needed basis as in the normal course of revisionary taxonomy; and (4) creation of a global e-type archive associated with the commissions on nomenclature and species registries providing one-stop-shopping for e-types. We describe a first generation implementation of the “K” strategy that adapts current technology to create a network of Remotely Operable Benchmarkers Of Types (ROBOT) specifically engineered to handle the largest backlog of types, pinned insect specimens. The three initial instruments will be in the Smithsonian Institution(Washington, DC), Natural History Museum (London), and Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris), networking the three largest insect collections in the world with entomologists worldwide. These three instruments make possible remote examination, manipulation, and photography of types for more than 600, 000 species. This is a cybertaxonomy demonstration project that we anticipate will lead to similar instruments for a wide range of museum specimens and objects as well as revolutionary changes in collaborative taxonomy and formal and public taxonomic education.