Farewell to Species

MAGarland at AOL.COM MAGarland at AOL.COM
Wed Feb 2 10:35:08 CST 2000

In reference to the original question about phylogenetic nomenclature--may I
comment from a "user" standpoint?

(1)  With full-blown phylogenetic nomenclature, what exactly will we be
*identifying* in the future?  In my job as a humble government employee, I
travel around and make lists of vascular plants.  I identify as many "things"
as I can in the field (that is, I put a species, genus, or family name to
sets of organisms) and the ones I can't name I collect and identify back at
the office, using various references.

Now in thinking about this procedure, I realize that I am looking at
morphological discontinuities in a limited part of the world, and putting
morphologically similar things into groups within groups.  Sounds like folk
biology to me (I admit I've read Berlin, Atran, and other anthropologists on
the subject--and Stevens).  Doesn't have a whole lot to do with identifying
apomorphies and plesiomorphies.

I can foresee that a strict, rankless phylogenetic nomenclature will give us
lots of named groups that are *not* readily identifiable.  Heck, angiosperm
families are already being made worthless for field use.  What will our
floras and faunas look like in 50 years, and will we need to have gene
sequences to use them?

We ought to recognize that identification is a fundamental part of
taxonomy--the part where taxonomy has an effect on the "real world," as
opposed to the parallel cladistic universe.  As someone in that "real" world,
I have to favor a continuation of some sort of hierarchical naming system for
identification purposes.  Whether the names reflect some cladogram *makes
absolutely no difference.*

(2) About uninomials--they would be slightly more stable than binomials, I
suppose, but I have a feeling that the proponents of uninomials in connection
with phylogenetic nomenclature aren't really interested in stability.
They're just steamed because the generic name in a binomial is a built-in
indicator of relationships (or should I say "overall similarity").  Can't
have anything in taxonomy that suggests overall similarity!

(3) About ranks--if we're going to eliminate the "Linnaean" hierarchy, why
not go back to  those glory days of yesteryear and scholastic logic?  As I
understand Aristotelian logic, "genus" had no fixed rank.  You had everything
from a "megiston genos" or "summum genus" to much smaller genera, each
divided as necessary into "eide" or "species."  So why not call everything
above some restricted group a genus?

This will tie in nicely with the growing phylogenetic essentialism, where we
no longer *describe* the attributes of groups, but rather *define* their
essences--the essence in this case being the most recent common ancestor and
all of its descendents.  I look forward to another 2000 years of stasis!


Mark A. Garland
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2600 Blair Stone Road, Mail Station 2500
Tallahassee, Florida 32399

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