Comment on the proposed conservation of Termes serratus Froggatt, 1898 (currently Microcerotermes serratus) and Termes serrula Desneux, 1904 (currently Microcerotermes serrula) (Insecta, Isoptera, TERMITINAE) (Case 3385)

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2008
Authors:D. T. Jones
Journal:Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature
Start Page:47
Date Published:03/2008
Type of Article:Comment
Full Text

 The specific name Microcerotermes serratus (Froggatt, 1898) has been used since its publication to refer to an Australian termite, while the specific name M. serrula (Desneux, 1904) has been used since its publication to refer to a species from Southeast Asia. Because both names are invalid, Roisin & Pasteels (2000, p. 165) recommended the strict application of the Code to correct these names, which would necessitate the Southeast Asian species being called M. serratus(Haviland, 1898), and the Australian species being called M. parviceps Mjöberg, 1920. Roisin & Pasteels (BZN 64: 186) are correct in their assumption that I overlooked this recommendation (Roisin & Pasteels, 2000, p. 165), with the result that I continued to follow the prevailing trend and used the junior names. In 2006, on reading their correction, I applied for the conservation of both junior names (Case 3385; BZN 64: 83–86), an application that Roisin & Pasteels wish the Commission to reject (BZN 64: 185–187). My application cannot be described as ‘nomenclatural anarchy’ (Roisin & Pasteels, BZN 64: 187), as an application to the Commission asking for their ruling on this matter is the official method for resolving such disagreements over nomenclature.
  I have found six additional publications (Gay, 1952, p. 127; Gay, 1956, p. 211; Ferrar & Watson, 1970, p. 101; Grassé, 1982, p. 614; Grassé, 1984, p. 243; Watson & Gay, 1991, p. 346) using the name M. serratus (Froggatt, 1898). This brings the number of publications citing this name in the fifty years immediately preceding Roisin & Pasteels’s (2000) correction to 13. These 13 publications have more than five different authors, and thus the criteria for conserving this name (Article 79(c) of the 3rd edition of the Code, which was still current when Roisin & Pasteels submitted their correction for publication) would have been met. I have also found five additional publications (Tho, 1982, p. 185; Collins, 1984, p. 70; Chey, 1989, p. 101; Ahmad & Akhtar, 2002, p. 58; Houseman, 2004, p. 237) using the name M. serrula (Desneux, 1904), bringing the number of publications citing this name during the same period to seven.
  Roisin & Pasteels (BZN 64: 185–187) disagree with my assertions that these two junior names are now ‘widely accepted and extensively used’ and ‘well known’ (BZN 64: 84–85). While I acknowledge that the number of publications using these names is relatively low, I would argue that my assertions are justified within the context of termite research for the following reasons:

(1) These names have been accepted and used by everyone who has published anything on these species, including all the recognised termite experts (Silvestri, Mjöberg, Hill, Gay, Watson, Miller, Grassé, Ahmad, Tho and Thapa) who have published on the Australian or Southeast Asian fauna. The only exceptions are Holmgren (1911), who subsequently adopted the use of the junior name in 1913, and Roisin & Pasteels (2000).

(2) The junior name M. serratus (Froggatt, 1898) has been used in every major publication on the termite fauna of Australia: Termites (Isoptera) from the Australian region (Hill, 1942), Termites of the Australian region (Gay & Calaby, 1970), The insects of Australia (Watson & Gay, 1991), Atlas of Australia termites(Watson & Abbey, 1993) and the Zoological catalogue of Australia (Watson et al., 1998). In regard to the Southeast Asian fauna, there are only two major publications available, Termites of Peninsular Malaysia (Tho, 1992) and Termites of Sabah (Thapa, 1981), and both of these use the junior name M. serrula(Desneux, 1904).

(3) Those of us who work on the termites of Southeast Asia or Australia are
familiar with these widespread species because they are well documented in the literature as part of their respective regional fauna, and in the case of M.
 (Desneux, 1904) because it is often abundant on the forest floor and
easily recognized due to the relatively short, stout mandibles of the soldiers.

  Roisin & Pasteels’s desire to reject the application and to revert to the valid names ignores a huge potential cause of confusion. Everyone who studies either the Southeast Asian or the Australian fauna relies on the major publications listed above, all of which use the junior names. Also, any new researchers starting in either region will immediately turn to those same obvious sources for an authoritative view of the fauna. They might not consult a paper from an adjoining region entitled ‘The genus Microcerotermes (Isoptera: Termitidae) in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands’, and thus Roisin & Pasteels’s (2000) correction would go unnoticed. Reverting to the correct names would render all those major publications inaccurate. However, those publications will continue to be consulted, with the likely result that the junior names will continue to be used and published.
  To reject the application and revert to the correct names may satisfy the letter of the Code but it would: (1) require overturning the prevailing usage of the junior names, (2) leave all the major publications from both regions with a nomenclatural inaccuracy, which is likely to be perpetuated in the future literature, and (3) cause confusion over species distributions because of the switching of the binomen Microcerotermes serratus from an Australian species to a Southeast Asian species. A ruling to conserve the junior names would cause no such problems but instead would legitimise the use of the currently accepted names, protect the accuracy of the major regional publications, and ensure nomenclatural stability.

Additional references

Ahmad, M. & Akhtar, M.S. 2002. Catalogue of the termites (Isoptera) of the Oriental region. Pakistan Journal of Zoology Supplement Series, 2: 1–86.
Chey, V.K. 1989. A survey of termites in Sabah Forests. FSC Publication, 1/89: 1–144. Forest Research Centre, Sandakan.
Collins, N.M. 1984. The termites (Isoptera) of the Gunung Mulu National Park with a key to the genera known from Sarawak. Sarawak Museum Journal, 30: 65–87.
Ferrar, P. & Watson, J.A.L. 1970. Termites (Isoptera) associated with dung in Australia. Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, 9: 100–102.
Gay, F.J. 1952. A rare termite intercaste. Australian Journal of Science14: 127–128.
Gay, F.J. 1956. New species of termites from Australia. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales80: 207–213.
Grassé, P.-P. 1982. Termitologia, tome 1: anatomie, physiologie, reproduction. 676 pp. Masson, Paris.
Grassé, P.-P. 1984. Termitologia, tome 2: foundation des sociétés,construction. 613 pp. Masson, Paris.
Houseman, R.M. 2004. First record of Microcerotermes serrula (Desneux) (Isoptera: Termitidae) in Thailand. Entomological News115: 327–239.
Tho, Y.P. 1982. Gap formation by the termite Microcerotermes dubius in lowland forests of Peninsular Malaysia. The Malaysian Forester, 45: 184–192.
Watson, J.A.L. & Gay, F.J. 1991. Isoptera (Termites). Pp. 330–347 in: The Insects of Australia, by Division of Entomology, CSIRO. Melbourne University Press.

Taxonomic Group(s): 
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith