ITIS Taxonomic Metadata Tool Use Guidelines
The prototype ITIS Taxonomic Metadata Tool generates reports and SGML output for a component of the FGDC Biological Data Profile (FGDC-STD.001.1-1999). It allows users to quickly obtain the taxonomic hierarchy in SGML form for an unlimited number of scientific names. The SGML output can then be imported into any metadata software or other applications.
To use the tool, follow these steps:
"Duplicate" occurrences of the same scientific name (in ITIS or in other sources), generally speaking, can either represent the same taxon, or different taxa. ITIS contains some duplicates representing the same taxon, due to different practices of ITIS' predecessor database (National Oceanographic Data Center's "N.O.D.C. Code") or accidental introduction into ITIS.
ITIS' policy for "same taxon" duplicate name cases is to render one as an invalid/not accepted "database artifact" (reflected in unacceptability_reason and comment_detail), and to link it in to the non-artifact record (or next to it if the non-artifact is itself invalid/unaccepted for other reasons). For example, see Acirsa borealis (Lyell, 1841) (TSNs 72352 & 72354). Such cases are an ongoing cleanup effort in ITIS.
"Different taxon" duplicate cases ("homonymy," or the use of the same name to represent more than one taxon, simply put) can occur under several circumstances:
(a) The two names may be regulated by different "Nomenclatural Codes" (e.g., the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, the International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria, each of which regulates names at particular ranks in particular kingdoms), or not regulated by any such Code. Such cases are perfectly "legal" (though perhaps frowned upon). For example, Ficus Röding, 1798 (TSN 73159) is a valid mollusk genus, while Ficus L. (TSN 19081) is an accepted flowering plant (fig) genus. N.O.D.C. data practices resulted in two additional copies of each genus record (TSNs 73160 & 19082, respectively), which are both invalid/not accepted. In another example, Ctenophora is used as a valid animal phylum (comb jellies) and a valid genus of crane fly. The rank of phylum is not regulated by a Nomenclatural Code, so there is no requirement to address this homonymy. Note that cross-kingdom homonymies can result in multiple different metadata listings for your matching name, so take care in appending multiple-kingdom outputs into the same file.
(b) Where names are regulated by the same Code, such homonymy ought not occur, but sometimes it does, and sometimes the two names can both be seen as valid/accepted! When authors catch such cases they can resolve them with a replacement name, but sometimes this has not yet happened. For example, Dendrocerus australicus (Dodd, 1914) is applied to two valid taxa within the same insect genus (!!), and the homonymy has not yet been resolved in the literature: one was originally described in the genus Megaspilus, the other was originally described in the genus Lygocerus, and they were each moved into Dendrocerus... Both are considered valid taxa, but no replacement name has been designated to resolve the homonymy. Such cases are extremely rare within a particular taxonomic group, but become somewhat more common between groups (mollusks vs. birds, etc.) or in very large or little-known groups.