Tuesday, July 5, 2011

When honomyny goes wrong.

Christopher Taylor (Catalogue of Organisms) just published this excellent post in reference to Dr. O'Hara's recent paper in Zootaxa on the CESA itch. The CESA itch (not to be confused with the mihi itch) is a particular recent condition of certain taxonomists who are inclined to scour online databases for potential homonyms and publish them en masse, regardless of what groups these researchers are actually competent in, and often without the basic research to do it properly. This malady is named after the Centre for Entomological Studies Ankara, where Drs. Kocak and Kemal enjoy combing the web for new homonyms and naming their replacements after CESA. Which wouldn't be that bad if the results weren't amateurish taxonomic hack jobs.

Since Mr. Taylor has covered CESA-itch in detail, I would just like to outline one particularly grievous example from Dr. O'Hara's paper. An example that is close to my heart since it involves Trichoptera AND Sciaroidea.

Allomyia is a perfectly valid genus of Trichoptera (Fam. Apataniidae) published by Nathan Banks in 1916. Two objective homonyms were published soon after, Allomyia Felt 1918 (a genus of cecidomyiid gnats) and Allomyia Malloch 1919 (a genus of scathophagid muscoid flies). It was later revealed that Allomyia Felt was a junior subjective synonym of Oligotrophus Latreille 1805, and Allomyia Malloch was replaced with Allomyella (by Malloch himself, in 1923), so neither of these are in conflict.

More recently, two more homonyms have been described separately, by Fedotova in 1991 and Ren in 1998. Both of these were still in conflict at the time of Kocak and Kemal's 2010 paper. They had coined Sauricesa as a replacement for Allomyia Fedotova 1991, unaware of the homonyms by Ren, Felt, and Malloch, and that Fedotova's name had already been replaced by Gagne in 2004. They were apparently even unaware that Fedotova was describing a genus of Cecidomyiidae, not Tabanidae.

Given their complete unawareness and ineptitude at primary research, Kocak and Kemal moved 20 species from Apataniidae, Cecidomyiidae, and Scathophagidae to Tabanidae, a collection of not just Diptera but also Trichoptera! Let me clarify: these authors moved species across orders of insects. They put caddisflies in with the horseflies. And they did so because they cared more about publishing papers than getting things right, about blindly surfing computer databases than researching primary literature. This could have been done right, easily.

As it stands, Allomyia Ren 1998 has not yet been replaced, but given the gross incompetence of people who blindly replace homonyms, I think that task is best left to an expert in tabanid flies.