Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Validity of Lambeosaurus - Anybody Know A Good Lawyer?

Reconstruction of Didanodon altidens specimen ROM 794 (aka Lambeosaurus lambei,
aka Procheneosaurus praeceps) by Matt Martyniuk, all rights reserved.
I've talked a lot on this blog about my personal justifications for using "old fashioned" names for many groups or species of stem-birds. In many cases, names which were in common use during the 19th and early 20th centuries were replaced later by one or two influential scientists for reasons which don't really hold up when you look at the codes that govern naming in biology. For example, Manospondylus gigas may currently be the correct name for the theropod we know and love as Tyrannosaurus rex, but this possibility has almost never been discussed because everybody assumes it's a nomen oblitum - a name out of use for so long that it becomes automatically invalid under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Note the word "assume"--as I've written before, most people, even working scientists, don't really know what criteria must be met to classify a name as obsolete.

The name of one very well-known dinosaur is in such a sorry state that it's like the Manosponylus / Tyrannosaurus debacle squared. The genus Lambeosaurus, a well-known hadrosaurid with a distinctive squared-off crest with a backward-pointed prong, was named twice prior getting its popular moniker, and neither of those names can be considered obsolete, since they were both coined during the 20th century.

The first name given to fossil material (in this case a jaw) now universally attributed to Lambeosaurus was Didanodon. In a 2006 review of hadrosaurs, Lund and Gates stated (without discussion) that the genus and its type species, Didanodon altidens, were nomina nuda, or "naked names" lacking the proper description necessary to establish them. But is this really the case?