Proposal (767) to South American Classification Committee
Change the specific epithet of Des Murs’s Wiretail to desmurii
BACKGROUND: With few exceptions, all major taxonomic lists and publication on Furnariidae and birds of Southern South America in the XX century used the specific epithet desmursii for Des Murs’s Wiretail. After a recent review of some issues regarding the original publications (Gregory & Dickinson 2012), some lists and publications (Dickinson & Christidis 2014) started to use desmurii instead of desmursii.
There are other issues related to the description of the Des Murs’s Wiretail, prominently authorship and year of publication are controversial but the two potential authors, Des Murs (1847) and Gay (1847), used the specific epithet desmurii. The spelling desmursii was used for the first time by Bonaparte (1850) as a synonym of Des Murs’ name maluroides. Bonaparte and later authors probably concluded that desmurii was erroneous because omitted the last letter of Des Murs’ name, and thus considered that the specific epithet should be desmursii (or desmursi for those averse to the double “i” at the end). Actually, there seem nothing grammatically wrong with Latinizing the name des Murs as desmurii (Murray Bruce, in lit.). Moreover, it is not clear whether the new spelling given by Bonaparte was even “intentional” as he did not indicate the original spelling (desmurii) nor specified the reason for the change. Therefore, there is no evidence for desmursii to be a “justified emendation” and therefore it should be considered simply as an incorrect subsequent spelling (Art. 33.2).
“Art. 33.3.1. when an incorrect subsequent spelling is in prevailing usage and is attributed to the publication of the original spelling, the subsequent spelling and attribution are to be preserved and the spelling is deemed to be a correct original spelling.”
Therefore, we need to evaluate whether desmursii has been in prevailing usage. Before Peters, prevailing usage is not clear, with different authors using desmurii, desmursi, or desmursii. If that situation had persisted to current times, preferring the original spelling desmurii would be the best course of action. However, after Peters (1951), the spelling desmursii became almost universally used in taxonomic lists, field guides, books, and the scientific literature. It has been only very recently that some lists started to use desmurii again. Because desmursii has been in prevailing usage, it is protected by ICZN Art. 33.3.1 and should be considered the “correct original spelling.” There is no justification for reverting to desmurii.
There has been a trend in recent years of resurrecting old spellings and some checklists and publications are adopting them uncritically, as if the principle of priority were the only criterion in nomenclature. We need to remember that the principle of priority is only a tool to aid in a more important goal of the nomenclature system: stability. Using the principle of priority against stability is wrong and against the main goals and spirit of the principles of zoological nomenclature.
RECOMENDATION: I recommend a NO on this proposal, as it is unjustified, against the goals of The Code, and threatens stability.
Bonaparte, C.L. 1850. Conspectus Generum Avium. Vol 1. Lugduni Batavorum, Leiden.
des Murs, M. A. 1847. Iconographic Ornithologique. Paris.
Dickinson, E. C. & Christidis, L. 2014. The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the world, 4th ed., Vol. 2. Aves Press.
Gay, C. 1847 - Historia Física y Política de Chile. Zoología, Tomo Primero.
Gregory, S. M., & Dickinson, E. C. (2012). An assessment of three little-noticed papers on avian nomenclature by GN Kashin during 1978–1982. Zootaxa, 3340(1), 44-58.
Peters, J. L. 1951. Check-list of birds of the World. Vol. 7. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University Press.
Santiago Claramunt, January 2018
Comments from Stiles: "NO. I am not sure that this solution adheres to the ICZN criteria for stability, but given that desmurii probably was due to a simple typographical error, I am more comfortable with the correct spelling!
Comments from Areta: "I am unsure on this one, although I am leaning towards a YES. As I stated in other proposals of this kind, going against priority should be regarded as something exceptional, and I think that we need a serious evaluation on the pros and cons of each view. I wonder how much "prevailing" is desmursii over desmurii (google hits 4800 and 680 respectively). In the internet era prevailing names may change rapidly! Traditional taxonomists would see the perpetuation of incorrect subsequent spellings as sacrilegious."
Comments from Zimmer: “NO. I find Santiago’s arguments persuasive, although I must say that these sorts of issues make my head hurt!”