Wednesday, June 18, 2008

International Code of Area Nomenclature (ICAN)

John S. Wilkins over at Evolving Thoughts pointed me in the direction of a new code which has just been published in the Journal of Biogeography that aims to standardize the naming of areas of endemism and other biogeographical areas. This new code would be similar in scope to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), which governs how we name new taxa. The smallest area would be named a district, followed by province, dominion, region, and realm. From the abstract:

"Biogeography needs a standard, coherent nomenclature. Currently, in biogeography,
the same name is used for different areas of biological endemism, and one area of endemism is known by more than one name, which leads to conflict and confusion. The name ‘Mediterranean’, for example, may mean different things to different people – all or part of the sea, or the land in and around it. This results in ambiguity concerning the meaning of names and, more importantly, may lead to conflicts between inferences based on different aspects of a given name. We propose the International Code of Area Nomenclature (ICAN), a naming system that can be used to classify newly coined or existing names based on a standard. When fully implemented, the ICAN will improve communication among biogeographers, systematists, ecologists and conservation biologists."

Apparently someone has already published a paper which utilizes this new system. López et al. (2008) includes the following statement from the abstract:

"The following zoogeographic provinces are proposed for Argentine freshwater fish fauna following the International Code of Area Nomenclature: Andean Cuyan, Patagonian, Aymaran, Great Rivers and Pampean. The former two are placed within the Andean Subregion of the Austral Region, and the latter three within the Neotropical Subregion of the Holotropical Region. These provinces, based on results coinciding with PAE and cluster analysis, represent the first classification of Argentine provinces based on objective methods."

There are a lot of reasons why I'm doing what I'm doing and one of them is that I like organizing systems. They make me happy. I like putting things into categories and (theoretically) bringing order to chaos. At its best it feels like the "after" photo from one of those articles about organizing your closet. Look how clean and organized it is now! Every sock has its own little cubbyhole, sorted by color and length. Summer outfits on the left, Winter on the right. Shoes all lined up and ready to compare to your purses so you can color coordinate your outfits! Considering a new dress? Now you can easily and efficiently scan all the dresses you already own, and be able to make a good decision about whether that new dress is really all that different from all your old dresses! Isn't it wonderful? Won't life be so much better now? Just think of all the time and money you will save!

So you can see why this new system seems pretty neato to me. I have certainly run into problems in the past trying to figure out what exactly people are talking about when it comes to geography. Or what term I should be using for my area of study. Western Amazonian lowland rainforest? Yasuní region? Upper Napo region? Amazon Basin? Lowland Ecuadorian rainforest? Yasuni National Park? Tiputini Biodiversity Station? The Neotropics? It is not always clear to me.

On the other hand, it is also not clear to me how exactly I would utilize this new code in reality. Perhaps there is a list somewhere of currently accepted terms, but if so, I can't find it. So does that mean that everyone is starting from scratch? I don't even know what a realm is. And I would think that all of these areas would be attached to particular taxa. For instance the areas of endemism for freshwater fish are probably not going to be the same as the areas of endemism for ants or birds. At least at the province level. But they would certainly overlap. At the top of the hierarchy, though, they might be the same. How does that work? You can cite previous work, so I could (for instance) cite Bolton and divide ants into the classic groups of Nearctic, Palearctic, Neotropical, Afrotropical, etc.), but would those be kingdoms? Realms? Districts? Would the Neotropical region for ants be different from the Neotropical region for freshwater fish? How would my newly defined areas fit into the existing system? Or is there no system yet? I'm not clear. Perhaps some concrete examples would help me understand it. Of course, I've only spent about an hour browsing the internet to figure this stuff out, so all the answers could already be out there. But I really need to get back to work!

1 comment:


    The point I just remade above, which is straight out of PANBIOGEOGRAPHY 1958, is also not recognized by a reviewer of Comparative Biogeography from KANSAS because whatever the “expansion” of the evolutionary synthesis can be narrated to say it is not about the achievements of individual researchers .

    After seeing how difficult and divided the field of biogeography is as evidenced by the conversation on Panbiog-L spring I do not understand exactly how Bruce Lieberman expects someone to bring all biogeographers together. It is not even possible to bring “pattern cladists” (parsimony vs 3IA) together let alone gather them to authentic panbiogeography as it is beyond this.

    Actually , his review points to an issue that Parenti and Ebach raise. “Is biogeography not dependent on evolutionary theory? “ or “Is it”, as Liebermann expects, “a progressive fodder mill for evolving thoughts on evolution?” Parenti and Ebach noted the origin of biogeography before evolution by natural selection. So Liberman’s comments do nothing to show what nature of the evolutionary process biogeography can be expected to continue to move forward on or towards.

    If it was the other way around as Liberman suggests then he should be saying how a series of geographic places may be sorted or selected by species growing out of populations which will depend on whether one thinks the Earth was smaller in the past or if life may be distributed in the past off Earth for any and all geology. Instead Liberman continues to only point to the negative that continues to keep biogeography from being the big science it undoubtedly is.

    The “dynamism” of the field and diversity of approaches IS the problem. A liberal viewpoint will not help in this regard. When I attempted to discuss with Ernst Mayr the need for a more detailed relationship between math and natural history (which undoubtedly Comparative Biogeography enjoys but in a way different than I would fully endorse) he simply was able to get away with saying, by pointing his arm away from his body and quiping like a tanager that the action of change (speciation) is occurring way out there on the horizon. A viewpoint that simply accepts this as a possible way to locate where the data of biogeography is is no more helpful than pointing to the sky and saying there may be life out there. Dr. Brown noticed my dilemma and tried to assuage my concern by saying that Mayr had acted that way to him decades ago. Great, what goes around, comes around!!

    Unless Libermann wants to say himself how evolutionary theory and geographic ranges themselves are causal together he does not more proximally than Warren Allmon did for SJ Gould when his light faded on the Goethe color wheel holistically.