We are writing to register our objection to the proposed suppression of the specific name Gobius lagocephalus. As will be pointed out, the proposal by Smith & Sparks (2007) omits facts that make the application pointless; the described problem does not exist and has been solved elsewhere; suppressing the name G. lagocephalus would negatively affect the name of a well known and widely distributed species without creating any benefit (the effect would be the reverse) to the nomenclature of this group of fishes.
In their proposal Smith & Sparks (2007) present as Option 2: ‘designating a neotype that is most consistent with current usage (as a species ofSicyopterus)’—this has already been done (Kottelat 2007). The preservation of the status quo with regard to the name Gobius lagocephalus, presently known widely as Sicyopterus lagocephalus, is desired for stability of nomenclature.
In their application, Smith & Sparks (2007) mention as holotype the specimen on which Pallas (1770) based his description and figure. They mention that this specimen is lost and refer to ‘Kottelat, in press’ as a source for this information. This information was included in a manuscript not yet accepted for publication, and was used by Smith & Sparks without the author’s knowledge. Smith & Sparks do not mention that this now published article (Kottelat, 2007; available online since June 2006) includes information and nomenclatural acts that show their application unnecessary and disagreeing with the facts.
Contrary to Smith & Sparks’ (2007) comment, there is no holotype for G. lagocephalus but there are two syntypes. Besides the specimen in his possession, Pallas explicitly identified in his description of G. lagocephalus a specimen described and figured by Koelreuter (1764). This specimen is thus part of the type series. These two syntypes are now lost (Kottelat, 2007).
The two specimens (based on data in the descriptions and on the figures) are not conspecific (differences described by Kottelat, 2007 and Smith & Sparks, 2007). The only specimen that can be partly identified is that of Pallas, as his Figure 7 (Plate II) shows the single central lip cleft characteristic of the genusSicydium (unless the artist overlooked the two lateral clefts of Sicyopterus, however, given the accuracy of the illustrations of the other fish on the plates, this is unlikely). The drawings of Koelreuter’s specimen (Koelreuter, 1764: plate 9, figs 3–4) have not been done by such
a skilled artist as was available for Pallas’s fish (Pallas 1770: plate 2, figs 6–7) and cannot be identified to genus with any certainty, but it is clearly a sicydiine. The pectoral fin ray counts given by Koelreuter (15 rays) and Pallas (17 rays) are close to the lower end of the range of 17–21 pectoral fin rays for Sicyopterus and 17–22 for Sicydium (Watson, 2000; Watson et al., 2000; Larson, unpubl. data) and it is possible that both Koelreuter and Pallas missed seeing a fin ray or two (adult sicydiines have fleshy pectoral fins and even today with better equipment these rays are often overlooked).
Pallas’s specimen was stated to be from ‘America’ and the origin of Koelreuter’s specimen is unknown (Pallas wrote: ‘ignorant of its native land’ (our rough translation)). The original type locality therefore cannot be ‘America’ as this is the locality of only one of the two syntypes. Where Koelreuter obtained his fish from remains unknown.
There have already been two neotype designations for Gobius lagocephalus(Fricke, 1999; Watson et al., 2000), both invalid because the authors did not satisfy the conditions of Article 75.3 of the Code, especially clause 75.3.4, which requires information on the lost type material and efforts made to locate it. This is discussed by Kottelat (2007) and Smith & Sparks (2007). Both Fricke’s and Watson et al.’s neotype designations were based on specimens from Réunion Island, linking the name to the species known under that name since 1842, thus attempting to preserve stability of nomenclature.
Kottelat (2007) discussed the situation, discussed his attempts to locate the syntypes and their absence and designated a neotype satisfying the criteria of Article 75.3 of the Code. To minimize the risk of future confusion, he designated as neotype the specimen (SMF 28571) previously invalidly designated by Watson et al. (2000). With this neotype designation the name G. lagocephalus is definitively linked with the species recognised under this name since 1842 and the type locality is now Ravine St. Gilles on Réunion Island.
Smith & Sparks’ argument seems to center around the type locality of G. lagocephalus, which they consider as ‘America’ alone, and they perceive that a neotype would have been from ‘America’, thus threatening the generic nameSicydium presently used for for at least 17 North and South American species. To ‘rescue’ the stability of the nomenclature of the American genus name Sicydium(and of the Mascarene endemic Cotylopus), they choose the alternative to destabilize the nomenclature in use in the Indo-West Pacific. On the other hand, this potential problem was pointed out by Kottelat (2007) and his approach was to designate a neotype that consolidates the present use of the species and at the same time preserves the use of Sicydium and Cotylopus.
The name G. lagocephalus (now Sicyopterus lagocephalus) has been continuously used since 1842 for a fish species distributed along the coasts and islands of the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean, from Madagascar to southern Japan and New Guinea (Watson et al., 2000). Some authors do not recognise the different populations throughout this area as conspecific and consider S. lagocephalus to be restricted to Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands and the east coast of Africa. But all have used the name as valid for a species within this area. Further, the species called S. lagocephalus has a commercial value, as the fish is a local delicacy on Réunion Island. We have decided not to count usages of the name S. lagocephalus, we need only to mention that it is cited in all the classical as well as recent faunal works of that area; some examples: Boulenger (1916), Smith (1959), Teugels et al. (1985), Daget et al. (1986), Bauchot et al. (1988), Balon & Bruton (1994), Keith et al. (1999), Watson et al. (2000), Allen et al. (2002), Nakabo (2002), Senou et al. (2004), Keith et al. (2005) and Hoese & Larson (2006). It also seems sufficient to state that the only authors we are aware of who have not considered S. lagocephalus as valid (and nolens volens disturbed stability of nomenclature) were Sparks & Nelson (2004) and now Smith & Sparks (2007).
In order to preserve the stability of nomenclature we recommend that the
Commission rejects this unnecessary application. The Commission is further asked:
(1) to place on the Official List of Available Names in Zoology the namelagocephalus Pallas, 1770, as published in the binomen Gobius lagocephalus;
(2) to confirm the designation of specimen SMF 28571 as the neotype of Gobius lagocephalus Pallas, 1770, as designated in Kottelat (2007).
Kottelat’s (2007) paper is held by the Secretariat and forms an integral part of this comment.
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