Field of Science

The Alga of Uncertainty

The red alga Rhodomela confervoides, from Coastal Imageworks.

The tradition in taxonomy that nothing is ever really forgotten (for which there are very good reasons) means that, over the years, we have accumulated a certain amount of excess detritus. Whether referred to as nomina dubia, species inquirendae or just plain unidentifiable, there are a number of names for which the original description or material is not adequate to determine their identity with certainty. Most nomina dubia simply slumber undisturbed, not interfering with standard taxonomic practice; they simply serve to irritate those whose role it is to assemble comprehensive listings.

The red alga Rhodomela preissii was named by Sonder in 1848 for a specimen collected in Western Australia. He diagnosed it as "fronde tereti filiformi siccitate subplicata a basi dichotome ramosa, ramis inferioribus patentibus superioribus brevioribus erectiusculis, ramulis sparsis setaceis simplicibus furcatisve, capsulis subpedicellatis solitariis ramis superioribus adnatis", Latin descriptions being the fashion at the time*. The specimen appears to have never been figured.

*Some of you may be aware that the Botanical Congress recently voted to remove the requirement for Latin diagnoses or descriptions from the Botanical Code of Nomenclature**. Authors are still required to give a diagnosis for new taxa in either Latin or English, so Chinese still doesn't get a look-in.

**Though it was also decided that it would no longer be called the Botanical Code. It's now the "International Code of Nomenclature for Algae, Fungi and Plants". I suppose that we should be just grateful they didn't go with the even more explicit "International Code of Nomenclature for Plants, Fungi, Algae, Oomycetes, Labyrinthuleans, Plasmodiophoromycetes, Mycetozoans, Dinoflagellates, Euglenaceae and Cyanobacteria (and maybe Fossil Bacteria, on alternate Tuesdays)".

Hypnea rosea, photographed by Olivier De Clerck.

Womersley (2003) noted that the type specimen of Rhodomela preissii, held at the Melbourne herbarium, is small and inadequate for the species' identification. True Rhodomela is unknown from Australia, though other members of the Rhodomelaceae occur there. Womersley, however, suggested that R. preissii might be a specimen of Hypnea. If true, this would place 'R.' preissii some distance phylogenetically from Rhodomela, the latter belonging to the order Ceramiales while Hypnea is a member of the Gigartinales. As things stand, though, no-one seems to be faced with a great need to resolve the question.


Sonder, O. G. 1846-1848. Algae L. Agardh. In: Lehmann, C. Plantae Preissianae sive Enumeratio Plantarum quas in Australasia occidentali et meridionali-occidentali annis 1838-1841 collegit Ludovicus Preiss, Phil. Dr. Acad. Caesar. Leopold, Carol. Natur. Curios. et Reg. Societ. Bot. Ratisbonens, Sodalis, cet. vol. 2 pp. 148-160 (1846), 161-195 (1848). Meissner: Hamburg.

Womersley, H.B.S. 2003. The Marine Benthic Flora of Southern Australia.
Rhodophyta. Part IIID. Ceramiales – Delesseriaceae, Sarcomeniaceae, Rhodomelaceae
. Australian Biological Resources Study, Canberra.

1 comment:

  1. So we should now call the code "ICNAFB"?

    They should'a called it "ICB(EAAOSO)N", for International Code of Biological (Except Animals And Other Show-Offs) Nomenclature.


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