History matters

During revisions, old collections may pose questions totally unrelated to taxonomy, which are nevertheless crucial to solve in order take the right decision. An example may illustrate this.


In the Natural History Museum in London I found material of Bostryx guttatus (Broderip, 1832), which was described from “Peruvia, Cobija or Puerto de la Mar”. Nowadays, Cobija is considered Chile, Región de Antofagasta.




In the collection, this material was labelled ‘Bolivia’, and the question was: could these specimens possibly be considered syntypes, even if they were seemingly mislabeled?




For an answer to this question we have to know some facts about the history of this region. In Spanish times this region was part of the Audencia of Charcas, which was a political units of the Viceroyalty of Peru. It was bordered in the south by the Audencia de Chile.


 Schermafbeelding 2016-01-10 om 05.02.58


Chile became independent in 1818, and Bolivia (till then called ‘Upper Peru’) followed in 1825. Bolivian and Chilean historicans disagree on whether there was access to the sea for this new republic. During the 19th century borders were often not well defined and boundaries in the Atacama had not been well-established when deposits of nitrate, silver and copper were discovered. The dispute began when both countries claimed the territory, leading to the War of the Pacific (1879-1884).


It ultimately led to the Chilean annexation of the Tarapacá department and Arica province and of the Bolivian department of Litoral; it left Bolivia as a land-locked country. Later the boundary between Chile and Peru was established with the Tacna-Arica compromise in 1929.


The conclusion thus may be, that any material that was collected in this region during the 19th century could bear a label indicating one of the three countries involved, depending on the exact date of labeling. Note that this labeling also could have been done at a later stage, with re-interpretation of the political-administrative situation. Thus some margin of error may always be involved, unless there other sources which are helpful for the interpretation.
My answer to the question of the B. guttatus label is, yes it may be possible to interpret this as a case where ‘Bolivia’ was correct at the time of labeling, where the locality of collection now belongs to Chile.


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atacama_border_dispute with related links and references quoted therein.

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