Regarding Names Published as Taxonomic Novelties at Index Fungorum
by Michael Kuo
Index Fungorum is an incredibly valuable resource for mycologists. However, beginning in 2012, the Index began to publish new names for fungi without peer review or editing and, while these names are sometimes "legitimate" by the rules of the International Code of Nomenclature, they do not represent accepted standards of scientific publishing. While some of the new names published at the Index probably represent good science, others clearly do not—but in both cases, there is no way to know, because the science is not sufficiently documented and reviewed. The "free for all" approach to publication of taxonomic novelties fosters mistakes, enables petty "taxonomic racing," and creates extra work for taxonomists who must address these publications even when they are ridiculous. Therefore, the names will not be used at MushroomExpert.Com, which is devoted to science, until they are supported (if ever) by peer-reviewed, scientific publications. In short: the diligence is not good enough for my website. Examples and discussion can be found below.
In December of 2013 I was quite excited to discover an identification match for a gorgeous red bolete I had been collecting for 10 years: Boletus dupainii. Bolete guru Ernst Both (who passed away a few months earlier that year) applied the name, which represents a European species, to North American material in 2009. The morphological description provided a very good match for my material, so I published a page for the species, with a caution that "[w]hether or not the New World version of Boletus dupainii is actually the same phylogenetic species as the original European species remains to be seen; DNA testing would be required."
A year later, in 2014, Zhao, Wu & Yang published a paper in Phytotaxa establishing the genus Rubroboletus, on the basis of a 5-gene analysis, for a group of boletes that share red caps, red pore surfaces, red ornamentation on the stems, and blue bruising. Several well-known species are in this group, including Boletus satanas and Boletus luridus. Boletus dupainii is also among these boletes (in fact the specimen studied by Zhao, Wu & Yang was from Ernst Both's own New York state), so the authors created a new combination: Rubroboletus dupainii. Seriously? I wait 10 years to find a name for this thing, spend many hours verifying my identification and publishing a page for the species at my website . . . and within a year the genus name has changed, requiring me to spend another hour or two making revisions in my herbarium, my journals, my herbarium database, and my website. It was a pain in the neck, but I did it, because I trust that scientific rigor produced the proposal for the genus Rubroboletus. I can see the "Materials and Methods" used by Zhao, Wu & Yang (and, if I wanted, I could repeat their experiment to verify their findings), I can see their data and results, I can see the list of publications they relied on, I am given an address and e-mail address for the authors, and I have confidence that mycologists with expertise in boletes were contacted and asked to review the paper to suggest changes before it was published by Phytotaxa.
Then, in January of 2015, I'm faced with this: Index Fungorum no. 211. Someone named Jaime B. Blanco Dios has effectively published 28 new combinations, placing the same group of mushrooms in Suillellus (an outdated genus created by Murrill in 1909). The Index Fungorum publication, as you can see by following the link, is merely a list of combinations, including "Suillellus dupainii." Should we now accept this name for the species, along with the names "Suillellus luridus" and "Suillellus satanas?" Not one shred of supporting evidence is supplied. No materials and methods. No results. No discussion. No references. No way to contact the author. No guarantee that bolete specialists were contacted to review the science, if there was any, behind the new names. No way to know what on earth Blanco Dios is thinking and why he disagrees with Zhao, Wu & Yang—or whether he has even read their paper. Nothing legitimizes this publication except the ISSN number, which ICN requires. Yes, it is possible that Blanco Dios has spent many years doing great scientific work, and that his reasoning for resurrecting Suillellus is sound, well-supported, and based on data—and yes, Blanco Dios does appear (based on Googling) to be a Spanish mycologist who has previously published in peer-reviewed journals . . . but a possibility and a reputation cannot be substituted for science. One of the first principles of science, taught in 7th grade science classes, is that the experiment must be repeatable. Otherwise it is not science. In this case we don't even know what the experiment is, let alone whether we could repeat it. So you are welcome to use the name "Suillellus dupainii." I will not—at least, until I see it proposed in a responsible publication.
In 2012, renowned Canadian mycologist Scott Redhead published several new names at Index Fungorum, including the combination "Cantharellus roseocanus," representing a common and beautiful western North American chanterelle. Redhead was promoting a taxon he and collaborators had previously named, Cantharellus cibarius var. roseocanus. In their original publication (1997), Redhead and collaborators said that "[u]ntil stronger evidence becomes available to indicate specific distinctions, we opt to recognize the new chanterelle at the varietal level." In other words, the authors needed stronger evidence to promote the taxon from variety to species. In 1997 DNA studies of mushrooms were just beginning to get established in mycology's repertoire, and while the authors mentioned some as-yet unpublished RFLP data supporting a close relationship between the mushroom in question and "Cantharellus cibarius," their designation of the taxon Cantharellus cibarius var. roseocanus was primarily based on very thorough morphological and ecological data from seven well-documented collections made by Redhead in British Columbia.
15 years later, without comment and without presenting any methods, results, or discussion, Redhead promoted the taxon to species level by filling out a screen full of text boxes at Index Fungorum and clicking "send." To be clear: I have no doubt that Redhead was right, and that he had unpublished data (including DNA results) supporting the idea that Cantharellus cibarius var. roseocanus is a species in its own right. This is Scott Redhead we're talking about, and I trust him. Enter "redhead" into the search box on this site's homepage and you get three or four dozen species pages that involve Redhead's science. At least 40 articles in my library have been authored or co-authored by Redhead. Google him and you will quickly see how important his contributions to mycology are.
But even given Redhead's undebatable and deserved reputation, he should not get a bye on scientific method and reporting his results to the scientific community so that his peers can catch his mistakes (he makes them, too) and examine his methods. In 1997 Redhead wanted "stronger evidence" to promote roseocanus to species. The same standard should have applied in 2012, regardless of whether his hypothesis was later supported by the well-documented research of others (see the next paragraph). So, while the name "Cantharellus roseocanus" was "valid" as of 2012, according to the rules for publishing names, it was not acceptable by contemporary standards of science, which call for responsible presentation of materials, methods, data, and results for an experiment that can be repeated and that has been reviewed by experts before publication.
In 2013, the year after Redhead's publication of the name Cantharellus roseocanus, Foltz and collaborators provided actual scientific support for Redhead's idea. Note the wording from the Foltz paper: "The combination Cantharellus roseocanus . . . was made (Redhead 2012), but there was no explanation given for this online elevation to species rank. In all three gene phylogenies in this study C. roseocanus was distinct from C. cibarius and other Cantharellus species, supporting the new combination of Redhead." The Foltz paper, which appeared in the renowned journal Mycologia, bolstered this finding with clear delineation of materials and methods, careful presentation of results, discussion, contact information for the authors and, of course, peer review before publication. Clearly, we should accept the name Cantharellus roseocanus—now. But we should not have done so before the Foltz paper was published. And we should not assume, in similar scenarios, that subsequent publications will always validate unsubstantiated work published at Index Fungorum.
What Should Be Done about This Problem?
I don't know. Answering that question is above my paygrade. Should the rules (the ICN) be changed to require peer review? Should irresponsible publications like Index Fungorum's taxonomic novelties be added to the list of rejected publications that is part of the ICN? The people who make the rules (at least, the last time around, which was at the Melbourne ICN Congress in 2011) include Scott Redhead (see above) and Paul Kirk, the person responsible for Index Fungorum, along with others. The minutes of the 2011 meeting include some brief debate about peer review; in discussion of a different but related issue Kirk claims that "peer review is a myth" and that "the floodgates would not open" with electronic publication. If you are interested in this debate, I recommend a 2010 paper by Oliver & Lee (citation below), which reviews the major arguments for and against requiring peer review in the official rules (see the section "A Further Reason for Mandatory Peer Review," beginning on page 1202). Although I have no idea whether requiring peer review in the ICN is even plausible, I note that the ICN declares immediately, in its preamble, that the code "aims at the provision of a stable method of naming taxonomic groups, avoiding and rejecting the use of names that may cause error or ambiguity or throw science into confusion" and that "[n]ext in importance is the avoidance of the useless creation of names."
But while I don't know what "should be done" regarding the rules, I do know what I will do: wait for the names published irresponsibly at Index Fungorum to be proposed or accepted in peer-reviewed venues that require presentation of methods and data before I use them at my website.
Blanco Dios, J. B. (2015). Index Fungorum no. 211. Retrieved 9 March 2015 from the Index Fungorum website: http://www.indexfungorum.org/Publications/Index%20Fungorum%20no.211.pdf.
Both, E. E., S. Brown & B. Ortiz-Santana (2009). The second record of the European species, Boletus dupainii, in North America. Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences 38: 1–4.
Flann, C., N. J. Turland & A. Monro (2014). Report on botanical nomenclature—Melbourne 2011. XVIII International Botanical Congress, Melbourne: Nomenclature Section, 18-22 July 2011. Phytokeys 41: 1–289.
Foltz, M. J., K. E. Perez & T. J. Volk (2013). Molecular phylogeny and morphology reveal three new species of Cantharellus within 20 m of one another in western Wisconsin, USA. Mycologia 105: 447–461.
Kuo, M. (2013). Boletus dupainii. Retrieved 9 March 2015 from the MushroomExpert.Com website: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/boletus_dupainii.html.
International Association for Plant Taxonomy (2012). International Code of Nomenclature for Algae, Fungi, and Plants. Online version. Retrieved 9 March 2015 from: http://www.iapt-taxon.org/nomen/main.php
Murrill, W. A. (1909). The Boletaceae of North America I. Mycologia 1: 4–18.
Oliver, P. M. & M. S. Y. Lee (2010). The botanical and zoological codes impede biodiversity research by discouraging publication of unnamed new species. Taxon 59: 1201–1205.
Redhead, S. A., L. L. Norvell & E. Danell (1997). Cantharellus formosus and the Pacific Golden Chanterelle harvest in western North America. Mycotaxon 65: 285–322.
Redhead, S. A. (2012). Index Fungorum no. 5. Retrieved 9 March 2015 from the Index Fungorum website: http://www.indexfungorum.org/Publications/Index%20Fungorum%20no.5.pdf.
Zhao, K., G. Wu & Z. L. Yang (2014). A new genus, Rubroboletus, to accommodate Boletus sinicus and its allies. Phytotaxa 188: 61–77.
I thank the four professional mycologists who reviewed this essay, made crucial suggestions, and corrected errors.
Cite this page as:
Kuo, M. (2016, September). Regarding names published as taxonomic novelties at Index Fungorum. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/ifnovelties.html