North Atlantic Nudibranchs (Mollusca) seen by Homing Lemche

Submitted by Steve Wilkinson on Sun, 09/05/2010 23:34

Hanne Just and Malcolm Edmunds, September 1985, Ophelia Publications, Marine Biological Laboratory, Helsingor, Denmark, 69 plates, 170 pp, 25-7X17-4 cm.

Review source

Originally reviewed by T.E.Thompson in 1986.

Published in Journal of Conchology (1986), Vol.32

Henning Lemche was an enthusiastic student of Opisthobranch molluscs. Visitors to his house who were not interested in this topic might soon become bored, because all conversational roads soon led Lemche back into his favourite subject. I found him an excellent colleague, always willing to reply in detail and without delay to any request for help from a fellow enthusiast. In his own work on the taxonomy and biogeography of Opisthobranchs he was extraordinarily meticulous and dedicated to the highest standards of scientific endeavour. This perfectionism was largely responsible for the painful fact that his life's work was uncompleted when he died in 1977. This was to have been a monograph, illustrated by his own water colour paintings, on the Opisthobranch molluscs of northern Europe. There is some evidence that he had already decided to lower his sights, in the sense that he had recognised that he must concentrate his aim solely upon the smaller nudibranch group.

He left behind him a quantity of specimens together with colour slides and annotated drawings and paintings. Although the notes were, in the words of the authors 'often quite difficult to interpret', it was decided that the collections would 'constitute a most valuable base for further studies'. The primary need was for a co-ordinating author who could read Lemche's Danish notes (H. Just), and it would appear that the other authors (Dr M. Edmunds and Mrs E. Platts) were drawn into the project somewhat later. The now-published compendium appears under the names of Just and Edmunds, which might be thought to be unfair to Platts, who has contributed around 15 pages which represent a substantial portion of the text material; furthermore, the Platts section of the book, taking the form of an appendix entitled 'An annotated list of the north Atlantic Opisthobranchia', is of great usefulness to students of the group.

The body of this oddly shaped book (it resists all attempts to find a shelf in my study which will take it) consists of 69 colour plates which render Lemche's originals in a convincing fashion. Many of them are very good, for example, the representations of Colga pactfica, Polycerafaeroensis, Okenia aspersa, Diaphorodoris luteocincta and Flabellina borealis. Some are not so good, as in the cases of Flabellina verrucosa (which in plate 44 is obviously abnormal, possibly dying, as the authors admit), Tritonia nilsodhneri (which is rarely if at all as pale as shown in plate 1), and 'Doto onusta' (plate 11) which is probably Doto coronata.

There are two serious criticisms that must be levelled at this publication. Both are provoked by the fact that in my opinion the authors have produced a book which genuflects more to art than to science. This is expressed in the acknowledgements section, where thanks are rendered to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven for inspiration received, and in three separate aspects of the presentation. First, the selection of species for inclusion has been governed more by whether a suitable illustration could be found than by a desire for zoogeographic consistency. Despite the book's title 'North Atlantic Nudibranchs .....', specimens from the Friday Harbor Laboratories off the American north Pacific coast are the basis for plates 16, 34, 52, and 54.

My second criticism is that the authors have missed a real chance to make progress in the way that Lemche himself would surely have desired. Many times when reading this book, I felt that more anatomical observations were not only necessary but perfectly feasible. Lemche's collections are still there, are they not? So why did the authors stop short of investigating at the least the radulae of some of their unknowns? It is feeble for them to write (p. 5) that many of the specimens are 'still intact and available for examination in the future by specialists'. Edmunds and Just are specialists; whom else should we look to?

Thirdly, we expect better of the authors than their decision to include large numbers of species in the form of (for example) Dendronotus sp. A and B, Adalaria spp. A-C, and even Onchidorididae spp. A and B. Because the authors did not examine the anatomical features, they cannot identify these animals nor can they establish new taxa for them. The judgement to include them must have been primarily an aesthetic one. Such a reversion to an essentially pre-Linnean system of nomenclature cannot be welcomed. Lemche himself would surely have disapproved, as a commissioner of the ICZN. Such non-Linnean names are almost as bad as the colloquial names invented by some north American specialists, epitomised by the 'Jolly Green Giant' and 'Earthwatch Nudibranch' employed by Bartsch &Johnson in their book Hawaiian Nudibranchs (Oriental Publishing Company, 1981).