Why does it sometimes take so long to describe a species?

At least if you know the type is gone forever, you can designate a lectotype. But it takes time to find any duplicates in other herbaria, since one of them should be designated the type if the holotype is gone, or to be sure that there are no extant duplicates so you have to select an appropriate specimen as the lectotype.

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I think that I speak for the Aroid community in saying that we are thankful that professor Croat does not take this approach. He publishes new species in nearly every issue of Aroideana, and if he waited until he had a comprehensive work, they would likely still be undescribed.


On the other hand, it is legitimate for the author to wait until he/she is comfortable with the full picture. Describing a new species and being told later that it is a junior synonym of an obscure old name is something we DO prefer to avoid.


Simply because the whole business if neither simple nor easy . This a good summary:


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Aside: Better not anticipate new scientific names in a “non-publication”…


I recall a case where a new subspecies of lizard had been described in an unpublished work, maybe a thesis, and it included a proposed scientific name. The new description was in the works for formal publication when someone else prepared and published a dichotomous key to the lizards in that genus and used that new name, with a description of the taxon’s characteristics, presumably taken from the unpublished document. Unintentionally, the author of that key became the describer of that subspecies … the original researcher got scooped.

In another case, two authors inadvertently scooped themselves by describing a new snake in a magazine prior to the formal description in a biological journal.

My flippant comment will not get picked up by the relevant biologist?

Reminds me of a case where a National Geographic article was timed to come out a little after a spectacular fossil was described. The technical article got delayed, though, so the author of the Nat’l Geo article became the author of the name.


describing a species takes time, many researchers are either too occupied or do not have time to describe all the specimens they have already collected. Others wait to have multiple of the same genera and publish it in a review of that genera and describe multiple at a time, most of the time though its simply just the researchers do not have time or do not get to the new species they have in their collections.

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or the researcher that’s been sitting on them for 15 years (“I’m going to write them up one day”) dies, and management looses funding and wants to use the space and sends all his stuff to the tip.
I found myself being appointed custodian of a collection that nobody actually knew where it was. When I tracked them down, that’s exactly what had happened. I was in charge of a project for which all the specimens and records had been destroyed.


Type specimens destroyed?

How awful!

It’s not that unusual for a biologist to leave behind large amounts of unpublished data in notebooks or data sheets that their successor can’t figure out or use. We all think we have time to wrap up all our pet projects. Sad but I’ve seen this myself; my office has files of data left by my predecessors. The older I get the less inclined I am to tackle anything that might take many years to complete.

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That is why I hope somebody else just discovers the same thing and describes it faster, I’m sorry, but if you need decades to describe a thing, you deserved it. It can be something rare and in need of reserve to be set up around, but also can totally die out or be replaced with buildings because one old guy decided it’s not his first priority, of it’s so far on the lost, you shouldn’t be doing it at all.