Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Charlie Davis' Comments on the BioBlitz Process

Bioblitz issue: Synonomy of names on lists

Apart from issues of possible mis-identifications...Because different surveyors may be using different floras to identify plants there may be different names applied to some same specimens because of differences in taxonomy or errors in certain keys, or recent revisions to names. This problem ultimately can be resolved only by examing voucher specimens. But in our current process...if different persons are submitting lists to a central person who is only compiling names, the composite list may have synonyms throughout. This may artifically inflate the number of species reported or in some instances could result in a false reporting of presence. The significance of this problem depends on the ultimate use of the list.

If you were to ask me to supply a list of the names of plant species not previously reported from Kenilworth Park--it would not necessarily be an exercise of simple one-to-one correspondance. For instance the current park list states that the grass, Sphenopholis

intermedia occurs in the park. Gelason & Cronquist 1991 list S. intermedia as a synonym for S. obtusata var. major. In my field notes I listed Sphenopholis obtusata from along the railroad track. Under the Gleason & Cronquit taxonomy, I did not see a new species for the park. Fortunately, I happen to take a voucher for this specimen and on later measurement (after seeing S. intermedia already listed for the park) determined that I collected S. obtusata var. obtusata, a different taxon than previously reported. In this case someone just compiling lists would have come to the same conclusion--but not for the same reason. In the field I was not differentiating between Sphenopholis intermedia and S. obtusata sensu stricto. Observation-only lists can also have this uncertainty and without vouchers there is no way to ultimately clarify this uncertainty. Even with vouchers a list compiler has no way to know these taxonomic subtitlies. For serious study, ultimately someone would want to examine the vouchers for our list; but in its present form (and forum) the lists could perhaps be best described as 'threads of inquiry' for persons interested in the plant resources and assume that they would be knowledgeable enough to recognize these inherent inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies.

Charlie Davis

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Laurel, MD, USA 20708-4038
Contact: Sam Dreoge
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