EarthWord – Type Locality

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What's your type? Locality, that is...

EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word!

Image shows a mule deer doe walking on grass, facing right
A female mule deer in Texas, quite far from its type location. Credit: Alex Demas, USGS.

The EarthWord: Type Locality

Definition:

  • Although it may sound like what taxonomists ask each other on a first date, a type locality refers to the location where a species is first identified.

Etymology:

  • Type locality is made up of the Ancient Greek word typos, meaning “image,” among other things, and the Latin word localis, meaning “pertaining to a place.”

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • The reason the type locality of a species matters is it gives a reference point to understanding that species’ original range and habitat, especially if it’s different today. For instance, the American bison is most often associated with the great prairies of the American West, but its range once extended as far east as New York and as far south as Mexico. That’s right, Buffalo, New York, may have once been home to American bison in addition to buffalo wings.

  • As climate change and land-use change alter natural landscapes and ecosystems, type localities will help us understand how the new habitats of various species are different from their historical homes.

USGS Use:

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