Comments on the proposed conservation of usage of Testudo gigantea Schweigger, 1812 (currently Geochelone (Aldabrachelys) gigantea; Reptilia, Testudines) 26

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2009
Authors:Iverson, JB
Journal:Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature
Start Page:284
Date Published:09/2009
Type of Article:Comment
Full Text

I am writing in response to Case 3463 (2009, BZN 66: 34–50) currently before the Commission. This proposal by Frazier recommends retaining his designated neotype for Testudo gigantea Schweigger, 1812. However, this has been rendered completely unnecessary by the rediscovery of the holotype of T. gigantea in the Paris Museum (MNHN 95541) by Bour (2006) (see also Bour & Pritchard, BZN 66:
169–174). I was a reviewer of Bour & Pritchard’s [2009] paper, and
I am convinced that the authors have indeed rediscovered the
long-misplaced holotype, making the name T. gigantea a junior synonym of T. denticulata,
and thus unavailable for any tortoise native to the Indian Ocean
(including the Aldabra tortoise). Hence, I am surprised and perplexed
by the onslaught of opinions favouring Frazier’s petition, when most of
the opinions have no reference to or basis in the International Code of
Zoological Nomenclature, which is the foundation of proper zoological
  Most of the published comments were written by
non-taxonomists, many of whom have apparently never read the Code.
Rather, their comments seem to be based on personal preference for a
name which they have grown accustomed to using. However, personal
preference for or personal comfort with zoological names has (or should
have) little value in nomenclatural decisions when they are at odds
with the Code. Logical nomenclatural decisions, guided explicitly by
the Code, are essential if we are ever to have taxonomic stability.
Practising law without reading or understanding legal statutes is
unacceptable; why should practising nomenclature with no basis in the
Law (Code) be any different? It further concerns me that many authors
and editors are not being held to higher standards in recognising
currently accepted names. As but one example, note the use of Geochelone elephantopus for the Galapagos tortoise in Poulakakis et al. (2008), when the accepted name is Chelonoidis nigra (see
Pritchard, 1986, 1996; Le et al., 2006; Fritz & Havas, 2007; Turtle
Taxonomy Working Group, 2007; Rhodin et al. 2008 among many others).

  In my opinion, Bour (2006) and Pritchard (1986) (see also BZN 66:
169–174; Bour & Pritchard [2009]) have both read and correctly
interpreted the Code regarding 1)  the inappropriateness of designating
a neotype for Testudo gigantea, 2) the valid species name for the Aldabra tortoise (dussumieri), and 3), based on currently understood phylogenetic relationships (Le et al., 2006; among others), the valid genus name (Dipsochelys). I urge the ICZN not to be swayed by ‘public opinion’, but instead to rule against the conservation of Testudo gigantea for the Aldabra tortoise, based on a critical reading of the Code.

Additional references

Bour, R. & Pritchard, P.C.H. [2009] The identity of Testudo gigantea, 1812. Zootaxa, [in press].

Le, M., Raxworthy, C.J., McCord, W.P. &Mertz, L. 2006. A molecular phylogeny of tortoises (Testudines: Testudinidae) based on mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 40: 517–531.

Poulakakis, N., Glaberman, S., Russello, M., Beheregaray, L.B., Ciofi, C., & Caccone, A. 2008. Historical DNA analysis reveals living descendents of an extinct species of Galápagos tortoise. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105: 15464–69.

Pritchard, P.C.H. 1996. The Galápagos tortoises: Nomenclatural and Survival Status. Chelonian Research Monographs, 1: 1–85.

Groups audience: 
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