The role of voucher specimens in validating faunistic and ecological research

Current Requirements, Policies and Recommendations on Vouchers

Systematic vouchers – The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature requires that type specimens must be designated and clearly identified for any species described after 2000. Although deposition of type specimens in a recognized institution (as opposed to a private collection) is not expressly required by the Code, most responsible authors do so and make the type specimens available for study by other workers.

Genetic vouchers – Deposition of genetic sequence data in centralized electronic sites such as GenBank or EMBL is now a requirement of many refereed journals publishing the results of molecular studies. Unfortunately, those same journals do not usually require separate deposition of a voucher specimen to ensure that the specimens from which genetic material was extracted were correctly identified in the first place.

Ecological vouchers – In contrast to taxonomic work, there is no established history of depositing specimens collected in the course of an ecological study. However, correct and verifiable identifications are just as important in ecological studies and there is absolutely no reason that requirements for voucher deposition in taxonomic studies should not apply to faunistic and ecological studies, especially since identifications in such studies are probably made more frequently by non-specialists using published keys only.

Biochemical or physiological vouchers – These conclusions about ecological vouchers also apply to specimens collected in the course of physiological or biochemical studies. Just as specimens within a group of species, or even within a species, vary morphologically or ecologically, there can be major variations at the species or population level in such characteristics as pheromone chemistry, responses to secondary plant compounds and other chemical substances, and physiological responses to environmental changes.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada has recognized the importance of natural history collections in research by publishing a Framework for Researchers Working with University-Based Collections (NSERC 2003) including a statement on the importance of both type specimens and voucher specimens in documenting the results of research. One of the pivotal collaborative roles that natural history collections can play in faunistic, ecological or physiological studies is in housing and maintaining the voucher specimens that permit verification of the identity of study organisms.

Despite the clear value of voucher specimens in validating research, and acknowledgment by major granting agencies of that value, many journals do not require, or even recommend, deposition of vouchers as a condition of publication. Table 1 summarizes the editorial policies concerning voucher specimens of a small sample of Canadian and international entomological journals (as well as some general journals with occasional entomological content). Primarily systematic journals, such as Systematic Entomology, require voucher specimens to be deposited in a collection. However, with a few exceptions (e.g., Entomological News), most journals, including the Canadian ones sampled, either fail to mention voucher specimens in their instructions to authors or only “recommend” that such specimens be deposited.

Table 1. Editorial policy on voucher specimens of selected journals, based on posted or published instructions to authors (as of June 2003). For each journal, the primary research focus is given, along with the stated policy on vouchers or type specimens.

Journal Focus Voucher deposition policy
Annals of the Entomological Society of America General Recommended
Aquatic Insects General No statement
The Canadian Entomologist General Recommended (English version)
Types required, no statement on vouchers (French version)
Canadian Field-Naturalist Ecology Recommended
Canadian Journal of Zoology General Recommended
Ecological Entomology Ecology No statement
Entomological News Systematics/Ecology Required
Journal of Insect Behavior Behaviour/Ecology No statement
Journal of Insect Conservation Ecology Types required, no statement on vouchers
Journal of Insect Physiology Physiology/genetics No statement
Journal of the North American Benthological Society Ecology No statement
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution Systematics/Genetics Deposition of sequence data required; no statement on voucher specimens
Physiological Entomology Physiology No statement
Proceeding of the Entomological Society of Ontario General No statement
Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington Systematics/Ecology Types required, no statement on vouchers
Systematic Entomology Systematics Required

Page updated on Feb 23, 2014