Biodiv Sci ›› 2017, Vol. 25 ›› Issue (11): 1239-1245.  DOI: 10.17520/biods.2017253

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Challenges regarding the necessity of voucher specimens for naming a new animal species: the Code, species conservation and the digital age

Jun Chen*()   

  1. Key Laboratory of Zoological Systematics and Evolution, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101
  • Received:2017-09-17 Accepted:2017-11-15 Online:2017-11-20 Published:2017-11-20
  • Contact: Chen Jun


With increased awareness of endangered species conservation, the development of digital technology, and different interpretations of some articles in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (Fourth edition), in recent years some new vertebrate species have been named and published without preserved dead bodies as type specimens. This has triggered discussions on the necessity of voucher specimens for naming a new animal species. In 2015, after Marshall & Evenhuis described a new insect species on the basis of 15 photographs only, a hot debate on this topic resulted. Supporters who advocate for naming new species without voucher specimens argue that, to name a new species without a voucher specimen is Code-compliant according to the Article 73.1.4. In addition, more and more skilled “digital collectors” would increase the likelihood of this kind of practice, and thus the threat to endangered species from collecting specimens could be reduced. Scholars on the other side of the debate argue that, in the Code, it is stressed that the specimen is the name-bearing type and not the illustration or description itself, and that describing new species based only on a picture and other non-physical specimens would result in errors in follow-up studies due to the lack of more detailed, accurate, and comprehensive morphological characteristics, along with possibilities of falsification. As well, collecting specimens is not the reason that species are endangered or extinct. In this article, the author summarizes the viewpoints of both sides of the debate. In consideration of some articles with ambiguous and even contradictory meanings, the author suggests that the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (Fourth edition) be revised in response to the needs of endangered species conservation and new technological applications. Naming new species with voucher specimens should be encouraged, as well as collecting specimens using reasonable, moderate, and orderly principles.

Key words: voucher specimen, International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, species conservation, digital age