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Snap! Is a photograph sufficient to prove a new species?

By Tim Sandle     Oct 12, 2015 in Science
It is long established in biology that to prove there is a new species someone needs to capture, dissect it and categorize it. Photographs have long been regarded as inadmissible. Until now.
The requirement for physical evidence is not simply scientific stuffiness. Often there are only subtle differences between animals for one isolated representative to be classified as a different species to another and this can often only be uncovered through painstaking examination. This is part and parcel of taxonomy β€” the branch of science that deals with the description, identification, nomenclature, and classification of organisms.
To suggest to many scientists that a photograph can be used as proof of the existence of a new species would be met with scoff and derision β€” until now, it seems.
Parts of the scientific community have accepted the description of an insect species based solely on a series of high-resolution photographs. Stephen A. Marshall from the University of Guelph, Canada, and Neal Evenhuis from the Bishop Museum, Hawaii have used photographic evidence, published in a peer-reviewed journal, of what they are stating to be a new species of fly.
The reason why photographs should be considered, the authors of the research maintain, is because of the difficulty in obtaining permits to collect in many parts of the world.
In light of this, they put forward a new fly species which is called Marleyimyia xylocopae. The fly is said to be large in size, resembling the carpenter bee. Whether this approach leads to further acceptability of photographs in lieu of captured specimens remains to be seen.
The research, along with the photographs, is published in the journal ZooKeys. The associated paper is titled β€œNew species without dead bodies: a case for photo-based descriptions, illustrated by a striking new species of Marleyimyia Hesse (Diptera, Bombyliidae) from South Africa.”
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