Pan listing species parameters - at home and abroad

Having received a number of comments concerning my recent up-load of species scores onto the Pan Listers Facebook site, I thought I might write a blog concerning my lists, the reasons I make them and some of the conditions I apply. Although of interest to, I believe, a very few, I am as concerned about world listing as I am about more local UK or British Isles listing. Personally I do not keep a garden, or county list in any group, but that is my choice as are all the conditions under which I keep my record totals. I do keep a year list, as I believe this keeps me on my toes in species recognition. It’s fun, and gives me something to do in the bleak conditions of January. I was delighted, and still am, that at the outset of PSL, Mark told us that it was absolutely up to us to decide the parameters of our recording.

Of great importance I believe is that Pan Listing should be fun and rewarding, and I think it can be taken too seriously by some. I am primarily a botanist, with my strongest interest being lichens, and in lichens I carry in my mind the necessary critical features of species for accurate identification. This is also what I do in most botanical groups. However, I do not have this expertise when it comes to many of the zoological groups. In the animal kingdom, I record those species that are less critical in groups such as Lepidoptera, Odonata, Orthoptera and birds. I guess that if I am totally honest with myself, in those groups in which I am not professionally involved, my stance is something like that I took as a young lad in trainspotting. It gives me enormous pleasure to add to my list. So long as I am convinced, and often by others, that the species I am adding is accurately identified, it goes onto my list. As a train spotter, I took a great interest in the workings of steam engines, where they were likely to be seen and in the joy of watching an express tearing through a station such as that at Grantham. As I said earlier, to me at least one of the main attractions to me of listing in all groups is that it is fun.

Text-books in botany tend to cover the British Isles and that is what I do. I do have species such as Green Lizard, Agile Frog and Jersey Emerald on my lists which are probably not covered by many in their pan listing. However, my recording parameter is botanical, and has to cover all groups if it is to make sense. It is interesting that there are just two lichen species in Jersey that are not present in the UK. The similarities of the lichen floras of the Channel Islands with that of Cornwall and the Scilly Isles is extraordinary. I am more of an ecologist than a taxonomist, and relating species to local condition such as meteorology and topography I find especially interesting. The fact that the highly oceanic South-western Ireland is in my British area of interests adds a very important dimension for me, as does comparing the arctic alpine conditions of the Cairngorms with the warmer conditions of Kent.

Another major difference between botanists and zoologists is that, except for a few very primitive algae and perhaps, the tropical walking palm, plant species when they are recorded are present in the undisturbed ecological conditions in which they developed. Thus the exact environment relating to their identification as a species is possible. UV light trapping of moths does not allow the species to be present in its chosen environment, which is certainly not an egg box in a metal cylinder. However, it is possible to record something about its habitat by examining the surroundings in which the trap is put. This is very important to me.

For me, it is the living individual that is important in my pan listing. I do not put species I see for the first time dead onto my lists – although I do have skunk which was a road kill in the USA on my world list, but in brackets and with a star to indicate that it was dead. Going through a soup of dead insects collected over night does not appeal to me. If I were to add such species to my list, I would have to see them living, possibly using a handlens or a binocular microscope. Seeing the animal alive with all its appendages in the right place, and still capable of movement is very important to me. Seeing something alive is more important than seeing it in its original site, especially when it has been attracted away from its habitat. For this reason, twitching a rare moth attracted to a friend’s UV trap gives me no problem at all.

Having a world-wide range of pan listing interests made me come up with a most interesting observation, and I still find it impossible to explain what is happening. A few years ago I spent three weeks in the Falkland Islands. There are species there extremely close to their British counterparts – species which have scarcely evolved away from their common British ancestor. Species include Myriophyllum quitense, Gnaphalium purpureum, Drosera uniflora, Lycopodium magellanicum, Galium antarcticum, Deschampsia antarctica, Armeria macloviana and especially Gentianella magellanica, Anagallis alternifolia, Euphrasia antarctica and Botrychium duscenii. Many of the above are only fairly critically separable from their British counterparts. They belong to a flora which occurs in the Falklands and in the southern parts of South America. How is it that these species came to be there? Their evolution away from their counterparts is minimal in most cases, but even in the days of Gondwanaland the two areas were not even vaguely physically close. The degree of separation, however, is sufficiently great that evolution since a possible introduction by man would be most unlikely, as would identical separations occurring in the south of Chile in a similar time frame.

Pan Listers, as I see it are people who have a broad based interest both botanical and zoological in taxonomy. It would be interesting to know if there is anyone who can say truthfully that their botanical and zoological interested are more or less balanced. As I hope I have shown above, the background and approach of botanists and zoologists are different. Within these two categories, there are probably as many biological histories, motivations and approaches as there are members of PSL. I rejoice in this and hope that we can all learn from one another and that in the end, the criteria for adding a species to a life list continues to be up to the pan-lister concerned.