ECOLOGY/EVOLUTION

Fungal Specimens

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Science  05 Sep 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5638, pp. 1293
DOI: 10.1126/science.301.5638.1293a

Plant species have traditionally been described and named from dried, pressed herbarium specimens mounted on card. In taxonomic convention and parlance, the “type” is the single specimen from which the original description was made. Although taxonomists generally take pains to use a specimen for this purpose that is well within the perceived range of natural variation for the species, it is possible for aberrant or otherwise extreme specimens to be accorded a unique species name. A strange example of this has been brought to light by Hood and Antonovics, who have discovered that several type specimens of species of Lychnis and Silene in herbaria were infected with anther smut disease, which causes the anthers to be filled with dark purple fungal spores. In several cases, the discolored anthers were incorporated into unique species descriptions—different than those of healthy specimens—in the 18th and 19th centuries by, among others, Linnaeus himself. In at least one case, the spuriously named diseased specimen has persisted into present-day floras. — AMS

Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B 10.1098/rsbl.2003.0063 (2003).

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