Differences between Taxon and Determination


Taxon and determination are two important concepts in biology, and it is important to understand the differences between them in order to maximize the correct placement and accuracy of your data in Specify. In this document, we will discuss the differences between taxon and determination and provide guidance on when you should use each.

What is a Taxon?

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A taxon is a group or population of organisms designated to form a unit and provided with a given name and rank, such as species, genus, family, or order. Species names are typically designated based on the evidence of a type specimen or specimens. These taxa are hierarchical and typically arranged into a Linnaean taxonomic authority for a particular group of organisms (e.g., Flora North America, Catalog of Fishes, etc.). Species fall within genera which fall within families and so on, as illustrated in the diagram above… It is common for taxonomists to disagree on the taxonomic classification or higher level designations and as such there may be multiple, competing taxonomic classifications for a particular group.
In Specify, only one taxonomic classification is allowed, and is arranged into a taxonomic tree which is then the taxonomic authority for that collection or database. This taxon tree can be created in several ways – by importing taxonomy through the Specify Wizard process or through the Workbench as a starting point, or by creating it from existing data in an existing database or collection when adopting Specify. Once imported, the upkeep of that taxon tree is up to the users of that collection as the link to the authority is then severed. There is no automated process of keeping an authority up to date thereafter. All new taxa or edits to existing taxa (including synonymy) will need to be created by the users of the database based on security preferences that dictate who can perform these functions. One can add new taxa, edit or augment existing taxa, move taxa to new parents, merge taxa to correct errors, or synonymize old names with new names where necessary. These are considered taxonomic changes and should be based on changes in the underlying taxonomic authority that has been chosen.

What is a Determination?

A determination is the opinion of an individual on the taxon name assigned to a particular specimen or lot in a collection. In Specify, it is the process of assigning a name from the taxon tree to a collection object by a particular person (determiner) on a given date (determined date) based on the characteristics of the specimen(s). There is an element of uncertainty in any determination and ,as such, multiple determinations may be given to the same collection object over time based on other individuals examining the specimen(s) and either confirming or refuting the previous determination. Therefore, determinations are held in a one-to-many relationship to collection objects and a determination history can be built for that collection object record through the creation of new determinations.