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Structure of the taxonomic records
The basic structure of a taxonomic record is (1) Current scientific name, author and year of publication; (2) original name, authorship, citation, and if relevant, location of primary types and type locality (direct quotation if possible). This is followed by a synonymy composed of all new names, their authorship, literature citation, and (if relevant) location of primary types, and type locality as well as all new combinations and the literature source of the synonymy or combination; (3) published English names; (4) known or inferred distribution of the taxon; (5) comments to controversies or literature relevant to professional systematists.
Synonymy: A synonymy follows the currently recognized name. The synonymy includes synonyms and relevant combinations (in the sense of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, 1999) as well as deposition of types, type localities, and the source of the synonymy. Users who are looking for the synonymy to provide unerringly and precisely the names by which a taxon have been mentioned will be disappointed, and will be misled if they approach synonymies this way. I have made no special effort to track mistaken application of names. Synonymies are nomenclatural tools for professional systematists and although they can act as surrogates for indices to the literature they can mislead in the cases where a once widely applied name was found to apply mistakenly to a composite of many species (e.g., Plethodon glutinosus), or where a name has been otherwise mistakenly applied (e.g., Bufo typhonius, a name nomenclaturally based on a specimen of dicroglossid frog, but otherwise widely misapplied to various members of a complex of South American toads for the better part of 150 years). I have attempted to note in the synonymies where names, used as pointers to particular natural populations and evolutionary groups, will mislead unsuspecting users. In some cases, where authors have been clearly unaware of pertinent literature or where authors are knowling promoting a paraphyletic taxonomy, I have made the taxonomic novelty to maintain a monophyletic taxonomy. This is explained in the comments and the version of ASW where I did this is noted in the synonymy. While this does not constitute publication in a formal sense (noted in a typical and laughably pungent way by Dubois et al., 2013) I am not sure how else to denote this and I will not follow clear errors, nor, more importantly, will I follow fringe or incompetent taxonomists when they are far outside of the sense and practice of the working community, especially when their intention is to promote paraphyly. I have also started adding ZooBank registration data. Very clearly that is going to be a growth industry as systematics moves to a completely electronic future, over the remonstrations of a very few Luddites who see the future in the past.
Sophisticated users will note that not all names listed are synonymous in the sense of applying to precisely the same taxon. For instance, I have listed the names of many suprafamilial groups under Anura and Caudata that were never intended to refer to those entire groups (e.g., Hydatinosalamandroidei under Caudata and Aglossa under Anura). This action was taken simply because I did not know what else to do with these subsidiary names. Similarly, I have treated all subspecies as synonyms of their covering species. This was done because I do not have the energy to track these highly controversial and largely unused names because there is generally no consensus in their use.
Since I began this project in 1980, I have learned much about nomenclature and some of the legacy work in this compendium now causes me to blush. Nevertheless, I think that a considerable number of errors have been corrected and this will go far to providing workers who are far away from research libraries the opportunity to know what literature they need to access. I hope that continuing developments in text delivery, such as the Biodiversity Heritage Library, will make literature access even easier as time progresses. There are considerable numbers of areas where nomenclatural decisions are difficult, even controversial under different readings of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (1999), so users will have to use the synonymies in a thoughtful way.
Types and type locality: For much of the early history of the development of this project I was remiss in not tracking the source of the collection and collection number(s) of the primary types. If there is not a statement such as "by original designation" or "according to . . . ." then the reader has to assume that the source of the information is not immediately retrievable by me, even if I had the relevant piece of literature in front of me 34 years ago. If a type locality is within quotation marks it means that I personally read that particular piece of information and that it reflects the original language. Translations are not placed in quotations.
English names: English vernacular names will irritate some, maybe even a majority of professional systematists, but in the USA considerable pressure exists from regulatory agencies to have an English terminology for species for purposes of import/export paperwork. I have not adopted a standarized list, but instead present the citations to all published formal English names that I have located. The scientific names associated in some cases with these English names do not necessarily reflect the original usage of the authors of the English names. Instead, they are place holders that allow me to associate the English name with the taxon intended by that author.
Geographic distribution: The geographic distribution statement is derived from the literature rather than by direct reference to voucher collections and does not provide any special precision or unqualified accuracy. The conservation world is looking for a level of precision in knowledge of distributions that simply does not exist, although parts of western Europe, the USA, Canada, Costa Rica, and Guatemala are approaching the needed levels of descriptive accuracy. The geographic distribution (like the synonymy before it) is best interpreted by professional systematists who bring considerable experience and knowledge to bear on their interpretations. In the best of all possible worlds all ranges would be based on well-identified voucher specimens in easily-accessible museum collections. The truth is that almost all collections are understaffed and underfunded and identifications lag far behind the state of the literature so raw taxonomic-locality information from collection needs to be interpreted carefully. (It is actually quite tragic that many conservation and governmental agencies are busy building big electronic databases of collection data, but fail to understand that these databases are replete with errors, and they do not have the personnel to interpret them effectively.) As a counter-example the IUCN Redlist (http://www.iucnredlist.org/amphibians) is making a heroic effort towards understanding amphibian distributions, and that website should be consulted if critical distributional information is required. If you think that informatics will obviate the need for expertise, please do not contact me.
Comments: This is a free-form category of information in which I explain controversies, provide opinions (if necessary) as to the state of the literature, and cite to the relevant taxonomic literature.
Contained taxa: In supraspecific taxa, the subsidiary taxa for which accounts exist in the database will be listed.
External links: The external links will send the user to a) Google images: b) Google web; c) CalPhoto; d) IUCN Red List (formerly Global Amphibian Assessment) links; e) Genbank; f) iNaturalis; g) AmphibiaWeb and other such links as we find time to add them. Because these send the user to pages outside of our control we take no responsibility for their content or whether the links respond.