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
>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
 Research Associate, Museum of Paleontology
 University of California, Berkeley, CA 94117 USA   (415) 387-8538

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