Comments on the proposed conservation of usage of Testudo gigantea Schweigger, 1812 (currently Geochelone (Aldabrachelys) gigantea; Reptilia, Testudines) 7

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2009
Authors:Hambler, C
Journal:Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature
Start Page:81
Date Published:03/2009
Type of Article:Comment
Full Text

 I very strongly support
the petition from Frazier to stabilise the nomenclature of this species
in the relatively straightforward way proposed, using USNM 269962 as
the neotype of T. gigantea.

The species name gigantea is
very widely used, far more than any alternatives, and has been for
decades. Almost all the ecologists who work on this species, including
myself, have used and still use the name Geochelone gigantea (e.g. Bourn et al., 1999). There has been very unwelcome confusion in some quarters about the name, with proposals to use Dipsochelys elephantina or Dipsochelys dussumieri,
although most experts on the ecology of the species have ignored this.
The confusion was exacerbated by the failure of some authors to
appreciate phenotypic plasticity in the species.

 As the petition demonstrates there have been a number of proposed name
changes, which hopefully will not be adopted and all of which I have
ignored (fortunately, as it proves). To minimise further confusion, I
advise people to continue to use gigantea unless
there is an overwhelming reason not to. I would be far more at ease
with a proposed change of generic name (if taxonomic evidence became
strong enough) than a different species name.

 As an ecologist and conservationist, I want strong links to be
retained between the diverse publications on this species which is IUCN
Red Listed and which arouses wide public interest. I have used the name
Geochelone gigantea for
several references to this species in my own textbook on conservation
(Hambler, 2004, pp. 7, 361) and 82 other publications ( Hambler et al.,
1985, 1993; Hambler, 1994; Linfield et al., 1993; Seaward et al.,
1996). Both editions of a major student textbook on biogeography
(Whittaker, 1998, 2007) also use this name. It is readily apparent that
the species name gigantea is embedded in a wide range of
literature from different biological disciplines which students may
encounter early in their studies.

 In addition to literature which is easy to find the name gigantea is
used in a number of unpublished reports from British university student
expeditions (e.g. from Oxford in 1983, 1988, 1990 and Southampton in
1982), available from the Royal Geographical Society (with the
Institute of British Geographers) and in various university libraries.

 In teaching at undergraduate level and above, and in conservation
literature, I advise that until there is a decision from the Commission
it is highly desirable to continue to use gigantea;
this will make links between publications, and ecological progress,
much easier for students and practitioners. It is not in the interests
of education or biology to maintain the current volatility which has
already gone on too long. To my mind, the main value of pointing
students towards the other names is as an illustration of the great
intricacies of some scientific and nomenclatural controversy.

Additional references

Bourn, D., Gibson, C., Augeri, D., Wilson, C.J., Church, J. & Hay, S.I. 1999. The rise and fall of the Aldabran giant tortoise population. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 266: 1091–1100.

Hambler, C. 1994. Giant tortoise Geochelone gigantea translocation to Curieuse Island (Seychelles): success or failure? Biological Conservation, 69: 293–299.

Hambler, C. 2004. Conservation. x, 368 pp. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York.

Hambler, C., Hambler, K. & Newing, J.M. 1985. Some observations on Nesillas aldabranus, the endangered brush warbler of Aldabra Atoll. Atoll Research Bulletin, 290: 1–22.

Hambler, C., Newing, J.M. & Hambler, K. 1993. Population monitoring for the flightless rail Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus. Bird Conservation International, 3: 307–318.

Linfield, M.C.J, Raubenheimer, D., Hambler, C. & Speight, M.R. 1993. Leaf miners on Ochna ciliata (Ochnaceae) growing on Aldabra Atoll: patterns of herbivory in relation to goat browsing and exposure to the sun. Ecological Entomology, 18: 332–338.

Seaward, M.R.D., Hambler, C. & Aptroot, A. 1996. Bryophytes and Lichens of Aldabra. Tropical Bryology, 12: 29–33.

Whittaker, R.J. 1998. Island biogeography: ecology, evolution and conservation. xi, 285 pp. Oxford University Press, New York.

Whittaker, R.J. & Ferna´ndez-Palacios, J.M. 2007. Island biogeography: ecology, evolution and conservation. 2nd ed. xii, 401 pp. Oxford University Press, New York.

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