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Are Scientific Names Unique?

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Old Tuesday 11th September 2007, 19:14   #1
annlondon
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Are Scientific Names Unique?

I have started an Access database of birds from countries I have been to. To make sure that I don't repeat a bird in my total bird list, I have used the scientific name as a key. However, when I did some cross referencing from the different country lists, the actual names of many birds with the same scientific name seemed quite different. For example, surely a black-bellied plover isn't the same as a grey plover?

If 2 birds have the same scientific name it is going to make this a lot harder than I thought.
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Old Tuesday 11th September 2007, 19:31   #2
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Great goodness.... I can answer a question in here

Yes, Black-bellied Plover is the same as Grey Plover (I think that's the name the Americans use)

You should be OK using the scientific names

D
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Old Tuesday 11th September 2007, 19:38   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by annlondon View Post
If 2 birds have the same scientific name it is going to make this a lot harder than I thought.
Critters can have multiple scientific names, as well as multiple common names in one or more languages. Not infrequently a single species will be split into separate species, and the old names and new names will get mixed up for a while. Also, subspecies are sometimes commonly thought of as different species, with different common names, but they'll have the same scientific species name, sometimes with an additional subspecies/variety name on the end.
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Old Tuesday 11th September 2007, 19:39   #4
annlondon
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Thanks, Delia

Actually, after delving a bit more I found the answer. Should have been a bit more thorough

Over time, I should have a great database and it means that I can make sure a lifer is a lifer!

Might go the whole hog and add pictures when (and if!) I have time.
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Old Tuesday 11th September 2007, 19:41   #5
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Would agree with Delia in principle - that using scientific names SHOULD be OK. But different authorities may well cite different scientific names. That could be due to the gender applied to the specific part of the name or because of updates to either or both of the generic and specific names. To some extent it depends on when the source you use was published. For some taxa there have been significant recent changes based on new molecular studies and/or behavioural/morphological/vocalisation studies.

There are a number of on-line reference sources that you might find useful:

http://worldbirdinfo.net/

http://www.bsc-eoc.org/avibase/aviba...&list=clements

http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/taxonomy.html

cheers
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Old Tuesday 11th September 2007, 19:45   #6
annlondon
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Oh no, bknownd, didn't want to know that. Oh well, I think I will stick with the scientific name as the key and sort out any discrepencies as they come up. It shouldn't happen often??!!

I have been using avibase, Gordon, for my lists so they should be more or less up to date.

Last edited by annlondon : Tuesday 11th September 2007 at 19:53.
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Old Tuesday 11th September 2007, 21:27   #7
njlarsen
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Using the scientific name as a main key should be more foolproof than using a common name any day. If a scientific name changes, it is often only either the first part (one genus split into two, or one species moved from one genus to another) OR the second part that changes (mostly due to splits or lumps), but rarely both at the same time.

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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 06:45   #8
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You might do better to buy one of the birding databases (which will have a complete list with the authority cited) rather than try to build your own. Less work, more enjoyment, and many of them publish regular updates to help you keep current.

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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 07:27   #9
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At one time I was under the impression that scientific names (why is it no longer pc to call them latin names, which is surely what the language is??), were used because they were the same the World over, never changed and were more accurate than common names. How wrong I was. Scientific names change frequently and are often just as inaccurate about the species as the common name.

My homemade database uses scientific names, but is based on common names, because as far as I'm concerned, they never change. A Dunnock is a Dunnock forever as far as I'm concerned, and if the scientific name changes I don't even notice.

There's no easy solution to the problem though.
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 08:09   #10
Joern Lehmhus
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[/quote]My homemade database uses scientific names, but is based on common names, because as far as I'm concerned, they never change. A Dunnock is a Dunnock forever as far as I'm concerned, and if the scientific name changes I don't even notice.
[/quote]


Well, other english names for Dunnock are Hedge Sparrow (I think that one was more commonly in use than dunnock in the past); Hedge Accentor (giving the true relationship of the bird)...and so on, I think there were some more, ah yes hedge warbler , for example


Also an animal can have the same scientific genus name as a plant:
example:
Prunella

P. vulgaris is self-heal; P. modularis is the dunnock
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 08:19   #11
Farnboro John
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Scientific names use a mixture of Greek and Latin roots, which is why the word Latin is best avoided: not to mention latinisation of modern names to form parts of names.

There are clear rules as to what names take precedence: most of the confusion arises when a sub-species is "split" by one or another authority. In theory even there sub-specific names should follow the precedence rules but if clashes occur (e.g. if a sub-species named for an explorer is split but he also already has a species in the same genus) then a new name may be needed for the new species.

The modern preference is for names to be descriptive rather than due to discovery or patronage but the system isn't perfect. But then what is?

What gets my goat is scientific authorities trying to take hold of and rationalise vernacular names, which is none of their business. Common usage is common usage, and all the authorities should be doing is recording it - I think the McJob furore makes a good parallel. The way the British Army changed after being ordered not to call Falkland Islanders "Bennies" (after woolly-hatted Benny from Crossroads), to calling them "stills" was another good example. The reason? Because they were still Bennies! A yaffle is a yaffle - but Green Woodpecker is OK, a Dunnock is a Dunnock not a Hedge Accentor and a Robin is a Robin and not a European Red-breasted Robin-chat.

John
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 09:13   #12
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In defence of common names:

Within a particular region, and increasingly even on a world-wide basis, the formal common names of birds are unique and as accurate as it's possible to be. Several well-known common names of Australian birds have been changed in the last few decades for exactly this reason. Some examples:

OLD >> NEW
Spur-winged Plover >> Masked Lapwing (there is a quite different bird in, I think, Africa called "Spur-winged Plover".
Fork-tailed Kite >> Black Kite (an international species, it makes sense to use the same name for it everywhere, not use a different name for the same bird)

Despite these changes - relatively few in number - formal common names tend to be unambiguous and stable - a Little Egret, for example, is still a Little Egret, no matter how many times they decide it belongs to a different genus.

In short, provided your region has an on-the-ball listing organisation, and you are using the correct formal common name, you should be fine. If you are going to start using informal nicknames, however, you could be in trouble.
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 10:47   #13
ColinD
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tannin View Post
.........Despite these changes - relatively few in number - formal common names tend to be unambiguous and stable - a Little Egret, for example, is still a Little Egret, no matter how many times they decide it belongs to a different genus.......
That's exactly the point I was trying to make. Common names can be and often are more stable than scientific names. For example, I guess it's possible that a species may have an old English which has survived for centuries, yet over the same period, its scientific name may have changed several times as scientific advances (e.g. DNA) move it from one genus to another.

If you're developing a database, especially one for your own use, you're probably better using common names as the key rather than scientific.
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 11:02   #14
Andrew Whitehouse
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Some scientific names are used for more than one genus e.g. Oenanthe is the genus of Wheatears but is also the genus of Water Dropwort plants.
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 11:52   #15
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Surely scientific names are, in principle, unique and correct, their very purpose is to identify an organism uniquely and universally.

That the names change from time to time is neither here nor there...scientific ideas often undergo revision or are in dispute, but they remain scientific because they must be supported by evidence and peer-reviewed.
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 12:32   #16
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One thing that has not been mentioned here is that there are several lists in existence that can be downloaded, and contain all the birds of the world. They could easily be adopted to fit your need. Examples would be http://www.worldbirdnames.org/, http://www.ornitaxa.com/SM/TaxChanges.html, and someone had a link to the Clements list for download somewhere as well.

In any case, the disadvantage of maintaining a database for yourself has been mentioned, it can be hard work; the disadvantage of buying a database which other people promise to maintain is the cost (100 US$ and up) and possibly that you will have fun developing your own

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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 13:20   #17
Farnboro John
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tannin View Post
In defence of common names:

In short, provided your region has an on-the-ball listing organisation.
Sound of hollow laughter.

Herring Gull complex anyone? (For consideration, not a psychological defect)

John
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 15:13   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bkrownd View Post
Critters can have multiple scientific names, as well as multiple common names in one or more languages. Not infrequently a single species will be split into separate species, and the old names and new names will get mixed up for a while. Also, subspecies are sometimes commonly thought of as different species, with different common names, but they'll have the same scientific species name, sometimes with an additional subspecies/variety name on the end.
True, and to add to this confusion, sometimes part of the scientific name, usually the genus name is often disagreed on by different authorities. Then there are those which may have been split into more than one species on one checklist (ie. BOU split of American and European Herring Gulls), and on another checklist, this split is not recognized (ie. AOU showing only one Herring Gull species). With practice, it will become easier to figure out what's happening.
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2007, 17:18   #19
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I made my own access database, in which I used the relatively stable Dutch names as a key. Many forms don't have Dutch names, so I make them up. These are not the ones I'm likely to see often anyway, so they're easily changed...
It took me ages, but then again I'm no IT wizzard.
"Current scientific names" and "English common names" are quite a nightmare (too many people don't keep track of changes in the first, too many people don't want to use "American", "European" or "modern" names), so you'll have to keep track! Maybe buying a database is the best option. I am too stubborn to do that.
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Old Thursday 13th September 2007, 06:51   #20
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Then there are those which may have been split into more than one species on one checklist (ie. BOU split of American and European Herring Gulls), and on another checklist, this split is not recognized (ie. AOU showing only one Herring Gull species). With practice, it will become easier to figure out what's happening.
Is that the right way round? If BOU have split American Herring Gull I must have missed it!

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Old Thursday 13th September 2007, 10:34   #21
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John, you're right. American Herring Gull has been split by DBA/CSNA, CAF, AERC and Clements, but not (yet) by BOURC, STC, AOU or ABA.
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Old Thursday 13th September 2007, 10:35   #22
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The purpose of my database is to record my lifer list and as it is only for me I don't have to be overly precise about keeping scientific names up to date. It would probably be worthwhile putting in the total bird population to start with and then I can select from this list for the different countries I visit in my BirdCountries table.

My occupation is analyst/programmer so this is some fun programming for me - to beat the frustration of not often being able to be out there actually birding.

I have gone a long way already and can just generate an A5 list of birds for a country I want and it will automatically add a date next to any birds I have already seen (no matter which country) so I know which new birds will be lifers!

Ann
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Old Thursday 13th September 2007, 12:16   #23
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The whole point of a scientific name is that it should be unique to a species regardless of the common name used, so that Grey and Black-bellied Plovers are both Pluvialis squatarola. But what do you call a species? That's where the confusion lies. The definition of a species changes all the time, thanks mainly to new molecular studies of phylogenetic relastionships. To take just one example, how many species of Brent Goose are there? One, three or even four? And don't start on Yellow Wagtails and Crossbills....

Also, some scientific names have changed in recent years because they were grammatically incorrect, which is a subject beyond my comprehension.
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Old Friday 14th September 2007, 22:39   #24
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And then there are common names for birds which might be the same name for entirely different species.

From Clements, "Birds of the World, A Check List", 4th ed. (Which is the one I have.), I have found the following birds with the same common name. It can get a little confusing. Perhaps some of these have been changed in a later edition(s). I have not checked them all out yet.

Bare-eyed Thrush, Turdus tephronotus, (Kenya) XU208
Bare-eyed Thrush, Turdus nudigenis, (South America) XU310

Black-throated Robin, Poecilodryas albonotata (New Guinea) WW070
Black-throated Robin, Luscinia obscura, (China) XX274

Dusky Flycatcher, Empidonax wrightii, (North America, winters in Guatemala) WN478
Dusky Flycatcher, Muscicapa adusta, (Africa) XX088

Falcated Wren-Babbler, Ptilocichia falcata, (Balabac and Palawan in the Phillipines) YK206
Falcated Wren-Babbler, Kenopia striata, (Malaya, Thailand, Sumatra and Borneo) YK208

Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Myiodynastes hemichrysus, (Costa Rica and Panama) WN754
Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Microeca hemixantha,(Tanimbar in Lesser Sundas) WW012

Grey-headed Woodpecker, Dendropicos spodocephalus, (Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania) VH166
Grey-headed Woodpecker, Picus canus, (Eurasia and Sumatra) VH396

Grey-throated White-Eye, Zosterops rendovae, (Bougainville, San Cristobal and Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands) YG120
Grey-throated White-Eye, Lophozosterops javanicus, (Java and Bali) YG164

Little Grey Flycatcher, Bradornis pumilus, (Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Tanzania) XX008
Little Grey Flycatcher, Muscicapa epulata, (western and central Africa) XX090

Olive Flycatcher, Mitrephanes olivaceus, (Peru and Bolivia) WN436
Olive Flycatcher, Microeca flavovirescens, (New Guinea, Aru, Yapen and Papuan islands) WW018

White-eared Honeyeater, Lichenostomus leucolis, (southwestern Australia) WU150
White-eared Honeyeater, Myza sarasinorum, (Sulawesi) WU280

White-tailed Blue-Flycatcher, Elminia albicauda, (southcentral Africa) XC094
White-tailed Blue-Flycatcher, Cyornis concretus, (Burma, SE Asia, Sumatra and Borneo) XX194

* The code numbers are my invention for easier referencing in my Clements Checklist.
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Old Saturday 15th September 2007, 00:28   #25
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The bare-eyed thrushes has gone through several iterations of not very good names. The latest iteration is to put African and American in front of the common name for the two species (Gill & Wright); a previous iteration was the one currently accepted by Opus with calling the American one for Yellow-eyed Thrush (it has brown or hazel eyes).

A well, finding good names for more than 9000 species is not an easy task.

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