From 18 to 29 October the tenth Conference to the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity took place in Nagoya, Japan. I was on the spot to help negotiate agenda item 6.6 on the Global Taxonomy Initiative (GTI) on behalf of the EU and its 27 member states (Belgium holding the Presidency to the EU in the second half of 2010).

But one day I ended up in the wrong chair, so adaptability was key.

A volunteer at the Durban Natural Science Museum (DNSM) became my heroine after finding the holotype of an ophiuroid that had seemingly vanished.

As with many museums, specimens that are donated by the public and from private collections of marine enthusiasts over many years, eventually became part of a collection that is overlooked. DNSM, known for their entomology, bird and small mammal collections, also have some of those ‘overlooked’ collections, with the echinoderms being one of them (by no fault of the staff at DNSM). Queries on the collections were made but no records of any echinoderm specimens were found and as a result of this, ‘operation: track down AST’ began a search for the missing holotype that was probably shipped to Europe after the war (or so I thought).

A few weeks later, I bumped into Mariana Tomalin (a very vibrant and enthusiastic lady who loves to database!) and mentioned that the latest records (1933) of the whereabouts of the holotype of Asteoschema capensis Mortensen 1925 state that it had been placed in the Durban Museum. She remembered that while she was completing an inventory for funding, she was sure she had seen some echinoderms ‘in a cupboard on a shelf above a stuffed lion’ but she would let me know.

Not even 3 days later, I received a very excited phone call and was told to ‘come look’. I rushed to the museum (thanks to my day-job boss who understands crazy taxonomists) and found to my delight; the holotype (photographed below) was safe and sound in a top drawer in the Entomology department.

Since then, further searches have revealed an additional 27 echinoderms that contain locality data. Frank Rowe (legendary) has assisted with identifications thus far and we hope to publish our findings in the near future.

In a recent paper Samyn et al (2010) recognise two species new to science and redescribe the type species of the concerned genus: Massinium, genus that was named a couple of years ago as an honorfic to Claude Massin

This paper is, and this thanks to the support of the Belgian GTI Focal Point, available as Open Acces on the Zootaxa site. Access it here.

From 7-17 June the Marine Laboratory of the University of Guam will be organizing a second workshop on holothuroid taxonomy. Contrary to the first workshop which was held in Brussels (Belgium), this gathering will not aim at finetuning the violins of already professionaly holothuroid taxonomists but will train promising students in holothuroid taxonomy from all over the world.

The Belgian team, represented by Didier and Yves, is proud to have been invited as tutoring body in this capacity building workshop that will not only liberate some of the results produced during the PEET project (delimitation of species borders through interactive taxonomy; comparative study of available types, etc) but that will also arm the participants with crucial knowledge and skills to become professional taxonomists themselves.

Looking forward to meeting some of our AWG colleagues, their students and the echinoderms surrounding Guam.

Sea cucumber taxonomy - the sky is the limit...


When Shakespeare had Juliet say the famous words “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, he meant that a name is an arbitrary construct, that if replaced by any other name, will not change the identity of the name-bearer. This concept might work for common names used by romantic authors, but it does not apply to the scientific names of taxa.
But what are scientific names and why do they often seem arbitrary and volatile to non taxonomists? Read more in pdf Samyn et al (2010)