Who should be listed on collecting labels?

One of the questions that all collectors face is “what should I put on the label?”  From a time in which the only label on a specimen might be a gold dot, or simply “Canada”, we are now at a time in which much more detailed locality information is expected.  Accurate latitude and longitude values are now standard, for example.  Country, province or state, a locality description, and date are also standard.  Some folks regularly include habitat information.  And, pretty much universally, a list of collectors is added to the label.  The topmost label in this picture is a standard locality label:


But who should be listed as collectors?

There seems to be no simple standard for this.  I have encountered three different approaches and there may be others.  Here are some styles I have seen:

(1) List all collectors present on the collecting trip, even if they were not involved in collecting those specimens.  Usually this takes the form of deciding in advance the order the names will be listed, and using the same order for all specimens.

(2) For specimens from a particular collecting event (for example, one habitat at a single locality), list only those peopled who collected those specimens.  These might be listed in a standard order (often senior to junior) or based upon the contributions to the collecting, with the person who contributed the most being listed first, down to the person who contributed the least.

(3) List no collectors on a label, instead stating only the name of the expedition (e.g., “Southern Yukon Expedition 2013”).

I’ve been on trips in which some people in the group used approach #1 for the specimens they processed, and other people used approach #2.

There are pros and cons to each of the approaches.  The big advantage to listing all of the people present is that they all would have some knowledge about the collecting locality, and the general environment.  If there were ever questions about the locality, habitat, or collecting methods, tracking down any of the people might allow one to gain additional details.  The value of this would depend upon how closely the various collectors worked – the more closely they worked the more knowledge they would have of the other collectors’ specimens.  (On some field trips, however, the collectors split up and go in different directions, and thus there are some things that they don’t know about each other’s specimens.) The disadvantage to listing all of the people present is that some of them may not have been involved at all in collecting the labelled specimens, and they might not be aware of discrepancies between the habitats they sampled and the habitats in which the specimens were found.  There is also the practical matter of avoiding labels that are very large because of a long list of collectors.

Favoring the second approach is the view that the list of collectors should be considered equivalent to the list of authors on a paper – it gives credit to the collectors, and specifies the responsible parties. In an era when there is more of an effort to credit systematists for all the many roles they play, this is a good thing.  Just as it would be strange to list as authors on a paper people who were simply present when the research was being done, the same could be argued for the listing of people on specimen labels.  I have always used approach #2, listing only those people who collected that set of specimens, and in order of contribution, although I sometimes list in my electronic and paper field notes other people who were present.

But, just as with authorship of papers, it is not an easy call.  My graduate student Kojun Kanda pointed out that if it is about credit, perhaps the person who provided the vehicle for the trip should be listed on the label. It may be that as more and more specimens become databased, some information can be relegated to the databases, with all people credited for their particular roles, but only a subset listed on the label itself.  This detailed accounting of roles does, however, sound like yet more bookkeeping, and we certainly have enough of that already.

I’d be curious to hear what you do, and why.

This entry was posted in Fieldwork, Taxonomic Process and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Who should be listed on collecting labels?

  1. Samuel Perry says:

    I simply list all present, with the “leader” (the person with the most knowledge as to what is being collected, where to find it, etc. Whoever has the most experience with the group being targeted or the fauna of the environment being sampled) first. If it gets to be over three people, I just list the leader then et. al.

    A lot of my own are either SG Perry & M Fujiwara for myself and my wife, or SG Perry & family (wife and two kids)

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