collecting a new species

Subject: collecting a new species
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 09:30:23 +0200

        The discoverers of the new Giant Antpitta collected 4 specimens as type
material; I have not read the story otherwise than in EBN-summaries, and
thus do not know what was said about the population size, if anything. Such
collecting has been normal practice, and I want to stick my neck out and
say that it still can be defended.

        This collection has clearly caused unanimous alarm and disgust in EBN;
longest goes Hermann Oldenburg, who speaks of an act of vandalism and does
not want ornithologists who collect birds to live long. As a professional
museum-curator, may I venture to disagree, and state that in my opinion it
is right and proper to collect type material of any new species described?
This goes without saying, I hope still, in the case of invertebrates such
as my amphipods, but the situation is not really different for vertebrates
        I refuse to believe, that the population will be so small that the loss 
4 specimens will have any appreciable impact, but that, I well realize, is
a feeling just as subjective as that of my opponents who feel strongly that
any newly discovered species must be rare and threatened. This latter may
well often be the case; a good example is the also recently discovered
tapaculo in Brazil; there the threat is habitat change, and that I deem to
be the most common threat for rare species, although in special cases other
threats, among them catching for the market in the case of e.g. parrots,
certainly will pertain. Acting as quickly as possible against such threats
is the best way of protecting the newly discovered species!
        But the collection of 4 specimens as type material is in itself not a
threat. I do not at all condone indiscriminate collecting in order to swell
museums collections ---those times are fortunately past--, but I feel
strongly that a newly described species, also of a bird, should have type
material, that can be studied by those who e.g. find new charcters of
interest for the taxonomy of the group concerned at a later stage, or in
the case that this nominal species is of questionable difference from
related species. Photographs, videos, DNA-samples etc etc are all well and
good, and will be of inestimable importance for later studies, but they can
NOT replace the voucher type specimens; what if later studies show the
structure of the syrinx or of the muscles opening and closing the bill, to
be of crucial importance in this group? The African bird species described
on photographs and blood samples only a few years ago is now somewhat in
limbo, and will remain so, "until better material is available".

        I am well aware of the fact that I probably will be a minority in this
question; it feels so much more right "to defend the poor birds and damn
the vandalist curators". But I am strongly of the opinion that it still is
better to describe a new species properly and in such a way, that one´s
peers can judge for themselves the quality of your work (A major
consideration in science!), than to succumb to these feelings and "only
take photographs". Respectfully submitted by a museum-curator (and thus a

                                                Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                9037 Tromsø, Norway

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