Taxonomic index, anyone?

Barry Roth barryr at UCMP1.BERKELEY.EDU
Mon Feb 24 08:06:41 CST 1997


Stan Blum <sblum at BISHOP.BISHOP.HAWAII.ORG> quotes Robert Robbins on
databases, and (as the maintainer of a database on terrestrial mollusks
which threatens to become a full-time project) I endorse most of the points
made.  But I would like to comment that the following passage,

>Each node has associated with it a level name (i.e., taxonomic
>level such as PHYLUM or CLASS or ORDER) and an actual node name
>(i.e., the specific phylum or class or order, such as CHORDATA,
>MAMMALIA, CARNIVORA).  Certain taxonomic levels will exist on all
>branches (PHYLUM, CLASS ORDER, FAMILY, GENUS, SPECIES), whereas
>others will exist only on some branches (TRIBE, SUBORDER, etc).
>[...]

assumes a taxonomy with formal ranks.  To express the results of rank-free
taxonomy in such a database would very likely require shoehorning them into
a system for which they were not designed.

The problem is easily gotten around with a system of parent-child
relationships (each taxon/record is the "child" of another taxon/record in
the same table which represents the next node toward the base of the tree;
a taxon may be the "parent" of any number of "children"); and if necessary
for some purposes, a field can be devoted to the formal rank names of
canonical taxonomy.

So this message of mine comes down to a plea that our data structures --
which have an authoritarian role -- not constrain the work of practicing
taxonomists any more than absolutely necessary.







 Barry Roth                             barryr at ucmp1.berkeley.edu
 Research Associate, Museum of Paleontology
 University of California, Berkeley, CA 94117 USA   (415) 387-8538




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