Handbook of Mammals Volume 2 is out

Volume 2, hoofed mammals, is now out. I know one blog member here who posted a pretty scathing comment on it on the lynx site, but I figured I would put my 2 cents in.

P.S. there is a long thread about this series on birdforum.net, where I already posted this:


My thoughts:

Things I liked: Overall I was pretty happy with the photos. I thought they had a nice balance of rare and common taxa, and showcased most of the range of behaviors nicely. The illustrations were great. The taxonomy was overall consistent (with the exception of the Bovidae), incorporating new discoveries and findings, but staying somewhat conservative. Some sections were incredibly well written; the Rhino conservation section is probably one of the most concise and well written accounts I have read of the problems for the group.

Things that I didn’t like: Some plates seemed a little too packed, especially the Horse plate, which I think would have worked better as two plates, one for zebras and one for everything else. This volume seemed to do a little worse than previous volumes as far as geographic variation. I would have liked to have seen more illustrated forms for White-tailed Deer (where is Key Deer?) and the Collared Peccary. At times the taxonomy seems a little too conservative, especially the approach towards subspecies.

The different chapters also were rather uneven in what they covered. Some sections give a good synopsis of the fossil record, others completely ignore it. The humans and pigs portion is really most about humans and pigs in southeast asia. etc.

Finally, the Bovid section. For those who hadn’t heard, the Authors are in the process of publishing a major taxonomic overhaul of this group and all other ungulates, and generally are considered extreme splitters. Something like an additional hundred species are recognized in this chapter, with practically every African species getting split into anywhere from 2 to 10 taxa. I think some of these splits will stand the test of time (depending on your view of species concepts), while I think others are premature. Also the reasoning behind many wasn’t really presented very well. It seems the authors wish the reader to refer to the Ungulate Taxonomy book, but this hasn’t even been published yet!

Also, just to be clear, I don’t think the Bovidae section really “follows” the PSC; It instead appears to be a retooling of the morphological species complex, and the authors often rely on a single gene as basis for there split, and appear to be selective in their choice of studies to follow.

Incidentally there is no right choice to follow between BSC or PSC…both concepts have their strengths and weaknesses, and the only important thing is to be consistent in how you apply them.


  • Vladimir Dinets

    I’m glad someone noticed…

    OK, the Bovidae authors don’t always use PSC. Sometimes it’s CSC, and sometimes outright fraud (they show klippspringer populations as allopatric by omitting large parts of the range). When they do use PSC, they use it’s more modern version (“diagnosticability” instead of “separate evolutionary trajectory”). PSC is evolving faster than the flu virus, but it still remains poorely formulated, unfalsifiable, and allowing for unlimited splitting. If applied to our own species, for example, it would lead to splitting of about 60 species on the first round, and of dozens of “hybrid taxa” on the second.

    It doesn’t mean I am a BSC fanatic. Nobody uses BSC strictly and consistently anymore anyway. But at least when people say BSC, they mean some kind of standard cutoff line, which is something PSC doesn’t offer at all.

    Back to HMW, one major inconsistency is the treatment of domestic forms. Sometimes they are given full species accounts (llamas), sometimes mentioned as “normal” subspecies (camels), and sometimes ignored (donkeys).

    BTW, have you noticed that in Sus scrofa account, subspecies were described according to HBW format? I wish it was done for all other species…

    My major concern is that bats and rodents volumes will be totally screwed up. But perhaps the publishers will do the same trick as they did with HBW: at some point they’ll increase the number of volumes and ask the readers to cough up a few hundred euros extra 😉

  • morganchurchill

    Personally, I find BSC lacking. For many groups the testing of it is very difficult (especially mammals). Than you have all the issues of allopatry, parthenogenic and asexual species, etc (all of which makes them difficult to test. Not to mention there seems to be no agreement on how much hybridization is allowed between populations, which otherwise would be on different evolutionary trajectories (and really, evolution is what is important here). Not really sure what you mean by newer versus older versions of PSC. The original definition as elaborated by Cracraft depended on diagnosibility. and monophyly. Some of the later variants stressed different parts of those, but diagnosable was still in the definition.

    PSC is imminently testable, it’s just an issue of how you test it. testing it with small sample sizes for morphology (some of which maybe characters controlled by nutrition and not genetics) and limited sampling of mitochondrial DNA is not the solution (And humans would not be in fact split…the genetic variation within living humanity is minute and below the normal criteria for separate species)

    So I have a completely different viewpoint from you in regards PSC, but would agree that many of these splits are unsupported.

    By the way I agree with you on the domestic issue. The first volume on Carnivores excluded dogs (except for Dingo), cats, and I think domestic ferrets. This volume excludes feral horses, cattle, goat, and donkeys, all of which have “wild” populations, but includes Alpacas and Llamas (none of which do, IIRC)

    As for bats and rodents, I have a horrible feeling we are going to get some plates with 40-50 species on them. I just don’t see the market for splitting these volumes like I do with birds.

    • Vladimir Dinets

      Human races (of which there are a few dozen) are easily diagnosable, even in the field. So are all dog breeds. PSC doesn’t say what minimum level of genetic difference you need to split. Remember, CSI people nowadays routinely determine the ethnicity of criminals from their DNA. Andaman Islanders are still on a separate evolutionary trajectory as there is virtually no interbreeding with outsiders.

      I think they can expect people who have already bought most volumes to buy the last few. That’s why they started with popular taxa.

      I got a reply from HMW, by the way, and replied back 🙂
      http://www.lynxeds.com/hmw/handbook-mammals-world-volume-2 – scroll down to the comments part.

      • Morgan Churchill

        Using genetic analyses, it’s possible to identify different people. This does not suggest that each person is his own species. And while different ethnic groups may be diagnosable, many distinctive groups don’t align with the genetic differences.

        Nearly all people who do PSC usually use some sort of cut off point, either a certain degree of genetic difference along with the diagnosablility/geographic discreteness. This difference usually aligns with a particular age of divergence. In addition many but not all researchers would argue multiple genes should also be used. See recent comment proposals on the South American and North American Bird checklist committee pages.

        Groves and Grub went a bit overboard perhaps, but there are many many cases in the history of science where broad lumping has occurred with poor sample sizes and little study.

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