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COSEWIC Guidelines for Naming Wildlife Species

Approved by COSEWIC in April 2010
Minor Revisions Approved by COSEWIC in November 2013 and 2015

This document provides guidance for naming COSEWIC wildlife species. COSEWIC assigns status designations to these intra-specific entities, but they often do not have widely-recognized common names or population (designatable unit) names. Thus, there is sometimes a need to invent common names.

The first part of this document presents a set of guidelines to avoid lengthy discussion time at status assessment meetings, and to help reduce confusion of the public and scientists as to whether a wildlife species, subspecies, variety or population (designatable unit) has been assessed by COSEWIC. These guidelines should apply equally to English and French names.

The second part of this document provides the sources that COSEWIC uses when determining the appropriate scientific and common names to assign to wildlife species on its lists. Because there is often more than one taxonomic classification system for naming wildlife species, it is important to document the particular system that is used for each of the taxonomic groups reviewed and assessed by COSEWIC.

Note that COSEWIC adopted the following rule for capitalization of common names in English: For all taxonomic groups, the first letter in each word of the common name should be capitalized. For French common names, use lower case, except for bird names: the first letter should be capitalized for the first word of the name, any proper nouns, and after specific qualifiers (e.g., “Heron” in “Grand Heron”).

I. Guidelines for naming wildlife species, subspecies, varieties, and populations (designatable units)
A. Every wildlife species on COSEWIC’s record of assessment results should have a unique common name. Use accepted common name(s) for wildlife species, subspecies, varieties and populations (designatable units). Invent common names when they do not exist using protocols (where available) that are specific to the taxonomic group under consideration. Document methods and sources for arriving at invented names. Scientific names for subspecies or varieties may be included as part of the common name by converting scientific name to common language when possible (again using standard protocols where available).
  • when more than one intra-specific entity is designated (e.g., three subspecies, two populations (designatable units) of a subspecies), use a parallel naming structure, such as: Grizzly Bear (Prairie population) and Grizzly Bear (Northwestern population);
  • the word “population” should never be used to describe a subspecies or variety; and
  • when using the subspecies or variety portion of scientific name in the common name--the word “subspecies” or “variety” must always appear;
  • refer to Part II of this document for a list of sources for common and scientific names.

Example 1:
Phrynosoma douglassii douglassii is a subspecies of the Short-horned Lizard. Its accepted common name is the Pygmy Short-horned Lizard. Another possibility for the common name is:
Short-horned Lizard Douglas’ subspecies

B. Population (designatable unit) names identify all partial-range designations of wildlife species, subspecies and varieties. Populations (Disignatable Units) must be identified with a geographic descriptor in parentheses (e.g., a COSEWIC Ecological Area). The word “population” must appear in the parentheses.

Example 2:
Icteria virens auricollis is one subspecies of the Yellow-breasted Chat. Two populations of this subspecies are listed by COSEWIC (in addition to a separate listing of the other subspecies). The Prairie population of the auricollis subspecies is used in the example below with two alternative common names:

Western Yellow-breasted Chat (Prairie population) …”western” refers to the auricollis subspecies
Yellow-breasted Chat auricollis subspecies (Prairie population)

C. Regarding the scientific name for a subspecies that has been designated by COSEWIC: If only one subspecies occurs in Canada, then it is acceptable to omit the subspecies name. If more than one subspecies has (or had) its range in Canada, then the subspecies name must be included in the scientific name. The same would apply for varieties.

Example 3:
Lottia alveus, the Eelgrass Limpet, once occurred on both the east and west coasts of Canada. Now it occurs only on the west coast. The east coast subspecies has been designated by COSEWIC (extinct) and the scientific name should be written as the full trinomial: Lottia alveus alveus.

Example 4:
Only one subspecies of Acris crepitans, the Northern Cricket Frog, occurs in Canada. This entity may be listed by COSEWIC with or without the subspecies name, blanchardi.

D. A COSEWIC entity may be referenced by either a common name or scientific name, while maintaining consistency throughout report. The population (designatable unit) name always must be included when partial-range entities are designated.
E. Accepted scientific naming should be used for wildlife species assessed by COSEWIC and any terms used in conjunction with the scientific name such as “var.”, “ssp.” etc. should be used as accepted in the international code for naming of wildlife species.

Example 5:
Rougheye Rockfish type I, Sebastes sp. type I
Rougheye Rockfish type II, Sebastes sp. type II

Example 6:
Paxton Lake Limnetic Stickleback
Paxton Lake Benthic Stickleback

Figure 1. Suggested name structure for COSEWIC listed entities, with optional and required components indicated. Note that very few names will include all optional components. A COSEWIC species name consists of three main parts: common name, scientific name and population name. Common names should include either a prefix or suffix to provide a more precise descripton of the subspecies or variety that has been designated. A population name is used when a biological species, subspecies or variety has been designated only in a portion of its Canadian range. For these partial-range designations, population names are essential, but should not otherwise be used. Either the common name or scientific name may be used alone(in conjunction with a population name, where appropriate), although more information is conveyed when both are used together. Refer to guidelines A-D in the text for more details and other examples.

Figure 1. Suggested name structure for COSEWIC listed entities, with optional and required components indicated.

Part II Scientific Authority for common names of wildlife species and capitalization rules.