Farewell to Species

P. F. Stevens peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG
Mon Jan 31 15:52:03 CST 2000

>I wonder if others might have some comments on the two recent papers in
>Systematic Biology 48(4):
>Phylogenetic taxonomy, a farewell to species, and a revision of .... by
>Species names in phylogenetic nomenclature, by Cantino et al.

I think the issue will turn on correct diagnosis of the problem - at least
I hope it will.  How it turns out will surely depend on group dynamics, as
well, but surely the last thing one that wants to see is two systems of
naming in use in the same journal...

I see the issue as being rightly much connected with librarianship, as the
binomial itself originally was (see Heller et al.), and that is partly why
binomials were relatively quickly accepted (one might also look at "folk"
taxonomies in this context).  I do not see any historical argument against
the use of binomials or hierarchies; words do not have fixed meanings, so
to suggest that the hierarchy necessarily reflects essences, 'real'  rank,
etc., are perhaps questionable, especially when you look at what
systematists have said and done over the years.  Similarly, I feel no force
in suggestions that names have to reflect in some way the "nature" of the
things that are named - the late 18thC was a great time for ideas of this
> Name changes that depend on notions (intuitive or analytic) of which
>grade the species should go into are >tedious and exasperating, and a
>uninomial is something to be wished for at times late at night when poring
>>over one's Code. The genus name is definitely a help, however, in
>everyday tasks since it functions as a >(Latinized) vernacular name.

This is one nub of the issue.  Names are for communication, and whatever
system of naming/philosophy of systematics one follows, one will, I think,
have to accept that a major element of convention informs the
cirumscription of the particular chunks of nature that one refers to in
general conversation and teaching.  From a phylogenetic perspective, given
the ever increasing number of monophyletic groups that could be named - and
with which almost any conceivable development of the Linnaean hierarchy in
terms of proliferation of ranks will be unable to cope -  this is necessary
if we are to understand each other readily.  (Note that a similar argument
is applicable whatever perspective one adopts.)  Of course, to use the word
communication without clarifying between whom communication will be
occuring is in part begging the question, but I will deal with this issue
later, if needs be.

What is really broken, and needs fixing, and will the fixing in fact create
more problems than it fixes?

Peter S.

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