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NZ researcher gets say in naming the world animals

Local researcher gets a say in naming the world’s animals

Dr Zhi-Qiang Zhang
Click to enlarge

Dr Zhi-Qiang Zhang is the New Zealander elected to the world body that resolves disputes about animal names. He is shown here with a microscope used to examine and photograph mite specimens.
Photo: Birgit E. Rhode, Landcare Research.

Local researcher gets a say in naming the world’s animals

A New Zealand scientist has become the first from this country to be elected onto the world body that resolves disputes about animal names.

Every animal needs a unique and universally accepted scientific name. In 1758 the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus originated a naming system for animals that has been followed ever since by animal taxonomists. All names must conform to the rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Disputes over the application or correctness of names are settled by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. The commission’s 28 elected commissioners hold expertise on most major divisions of the animal kingdom. They rule on applications made by animal taxonomists to resolve these disputes and uncertainties over names.

Dr Zhi-Qiang Zhang, a mite specialist with Landcare Research, has just been elected a commissioner, the first from New Zealand since the commission was founded in 1895.

Zhi-Qiang's research is centred on the systematics, diversity and ecology of mites (Acari) and is represented in over 150 publications. Since 1999 he has been a researcher and curator of Acari at the New Zealand Arthropod Collection / Ko te Aitanga Pepeke o Aotearoa at Landcare Research in Auckland.

Zhi-Qiang feels very honoured to be elected to the commission. He says the appointment is further recognition by the international science community of the quality of work being done in New Zealand to define our species.

Electronic publishing has presented new challenges for making names formally valid, and meeting the requirements of the 1999 edition of the Code. In 2001 Zhi-Qiang founded the journal Zootaxa, which is now the world’s most important publication for animal taxonomists. Therefore, in his role as a commissioner Zhi-Qiang is well-placed to advise the world’s scientific community of animal systematists of future developments in electronic publishing and how changes may be implemented in an updated edition of the Code. He is also well-placed to advise on the new Web-based initiative, ZooBank, proposed as a means of keeping track of animal names to minimise disputes in the future.

New Zealand has benefited from past decisions of the commission. For example, in the late 1970s a decision resulted in the generic name of our tanguru chafer beetle being fixed as Stethaspis rather than Costleya so ensuring it was not confused with Costelytra, the generic name of our major pasture pest, the grass grub beetle.

Zhi-Qiang Zhang sounds like “Zee-Schung Zhung”



Biographical notes

Born in Shanghai, Zhi-Qiang was educated at Fudan University in China (BSc in zoology in 1985). He completed his PhD in entomology at Cornell University (Ithaca, New York, USA) in 1993 and worked as an insect ecologist at Oregon State University, Corvallis, from 1992 to 1994. During 1994–1999, he was an acarologist for the CABI International Institute of Entomology based in the Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, London, UK. He also served as a Technical Officer for the Secretariat of the BioNET-International (The Global Network for Taxonomy) during 1998–1999.

Zhi-Qiang is an honorary research fellow at the Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum (London, UK), an adjunct professor at Fudan University (Shanghai, China) and Hebei Normal University (Shijiazhuang, China), an honorary professor at Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences (Fuzhou, China), and a guest professor at Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University (Fuzhou, China). Zhi-Qiang is the president of the Systematic & Applied Acarology Society and a member of the International Executive Committee of the International Congress of Acarology. He is the editor/founder of several international journals of zoology, including Zootaxa.

Web links:
What the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature does.
The 28 Commissioners from throughout the world, covering all groups of animals.
The International code of Zoological Nomenclature, 4th edition.
The home page of the journal Zootaxa.
The portal to 1.5 million animal names, launched in August 2006.


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