Editing Tip: Scientific Names of Species

To help you understand the correct use of scientific species names, here are a few key terms and conventions that may appear in your journal's guidelines for authors.

Updated on September 23, 2014

The effective communication of research results depends on the correct use of scientific nomenclature, including the names of biological species. To help you understand the correct use of scientific species names, here are a few key terms and conventions that may appear in your journal's guidelines for authors:

Genus and species

The scientific nomenclature of biological species clearly identifies the organism named and the person who first named the species. The genus (always capitalized) and the species (not capitalized) are given in italics. For example, the Philippine brown deer is Rusa marianna, and the dove tree, found in parts of China, is Davidia involucrata.

When the same name is used more than once in a paper, the first letter of the genus (still capitalized) may be used as an abbreviation in the second and subsequent uses of the name, but the rest of the name is not abbreviated (R. marianna, D. involucrata). In particular, the name is commonly written out in full when it first appears in the abstract and then abbreviated in the rest of the abstract using the convention shown above. The name is again written out in full when it first appears in a subsequent section of the paper (typically, the introduction) and is then abbreviated upon further use.

Some journals may request a different convention for abbreviating the genus name upon subsequent use, so be sure to check the journal's guidelines to see whether a particular usage is requested. In a few fields of study, two-letter abbreviations are used (i.e., Ae. aegypti for the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti).


The “authority,” or author (the person credited with the first formal use of the name), is formally included after the genus and species in the full version of the scientific name. For example, the full scientific name for the dove tree can be broken down like this: Davidia (the genus name) involucrata (the species name) Baill. (the abbreviation of Baillon, the French botanist who authored the name).

If the original name of the species has changed, the format is modified by placing the name of the original authority (and, for an animal name, the year of publication of the name by the original authority) in parentheses. For example, the Philippine brown deer, Rusa marianna, was originally described as Cervus mariannus by Desmarest in 1822. For this reason, this name appears as “Rusa marianna (Desmarest, 1822)” in print. The reason for the use of parentheses is that the genus name now used for this species of Philippine deer is not the same name that Desmarest originally published.

If the name of a plant, alga, or fungus has changed, in addition to the name of the original authority appearing in parentheses, the name of the person who made the change should be given. For example, the Brazilian orchid Cattleya purpurata was originally described as Laelia purpurata by Lindley and Paxton and later moved to the genus Cattleya by Van den Berg, so the name and authority became “Cattleya purpurata (Lindl. & Paxton) Van den Berg.” (By convention, as this is a botanical name, the year of publication is not included.)

Journal guidelines

Your journal's guidelines may include a requested format for the authority or may ask that you follow current practice in your field. For example, the authority (and year, if the species is an animal) might only need to be mentioned once, but a journal might also specify the particular section of the paper in which the authority should be mentioned: the title, the abstract, the introduction, or the section containing the first use of the name in your paper.

Some details also depend on the type of organism. For example, the rules for the names of plants, algae, and fungi differ in certain details from the rules for the names of animals. There are five different taxon-specific codes for species naming, and your journal's guidelines may mention the names of one or more of these codes: the ICZN, for animals; the ICN (Melbourne Code), for plants, fungi, and algae; the ICNCP, for cultivated plants; the ICNB (BC), for bacteria; and the ICTV, for viruses.

You may also see particular terms used to describe two-part names. Officially, “binominal” refers to two-part animal names, and “binomial” refers to two-part plant names.

We hope that today's editing tip has clarified several conventions in the scientific naming of species. As always, please email us at [email protected] with any comments or questions. AJE wishes you the best in your research and writing!

Clarity in writingWord choiceWriting a manuscriptField specific terminologyScientific nomenclatureCapitalizationAuthor ResourcesAbbreviation
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