Taxaonomic database structure

John McNeill johnm at ROM.ON.CA
Fri Aug 29 13:55:10 CDT 1997


I am not a database expert, but there are a couple of nomenclatural
points that are relevant and depend on whether the database is for
organisms falling under the botanical code or the zoological one.

As you use the term "infraspecies name", I assume that you may be a
botanist as zoologists recognise only the one rank, that of
subspecies.  For names of organisms treated nomenclaturally as plants,
you really only need three fields (genus, specific epithet, and
infraspecific epithet), plus a tag field to indicate the infraspecific
rank, because homonymy runs across the infraspecific ranks within any
one species (ICBN Art. 53.5).  Of course, if you want your database to
reflect a particular infraspecific classification (e.g. to which
subspecies a variety is assigned), you would need more, but three are
all that are needed nomenclaturally.

On the other hand if your database deals only with "animals", you
could probably get away with only two fields (with rank tags in each),
i.e. that for the genus (or genus-group) and that for the
species-group, because under the "principle of Coordination" (ICZN
Art. 46 (a)), and species is ipso facto also published as a subspecies

In the above, I am assuming that you are not seeking to include any
higher classification (family etc.) in the database, nor, at least for
organisms treated as plants, any infrageneric classification, though
as the Principle of Coordination also applies at the genus group (ICZN
Art. 43 (a)), subgenera in an animal database could be accommodated
(again with a rank tag).

The situation for a bacterial database would be essentially the same
as a botanical one, except that, as the Bacteriological Code does not
recognize any infraspecific rank other than subspecies, no rank tag
field is necessary.

For discussion of database structure with particular reference to
plant species, see Berendsohn in the May issue of Taxon.

John McNeill

  John McNeill, Director Emeritus, Royal Ontario Museum,
  100 Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2C6, Canada.
  Tel. and fax # 416-586-5744  e-mail: johnm at

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