Paraphyly=mistakes? (There's the rub)

Jong, R. de Jong at NATURALIS.NNM.NL
Wed Jan 9 09:57:37 CST 2002

ArenÆt we all getting tired of these discussions.  They have been going on
for half a century now, since HennigÆs ôGrundz³ge ...ö was published,
initially in Germany and, with a delay of 15 years, in the anglophone world.
Surely, it does not matter whether we believe the Earth to be a disk or a
globe when we go to the bakeryÆs to buy a bread, but it does matter in
numerous other situations. Similarly, it does not matter wether we recognize
paraphyletic groups or only monophyletic groups in many situations. In our
museum (as in most museums I guess) there is a Department of Reptiles &
Amphibians. Nobody will draw any conclusions about relationship from such a
practical division. But the distinction is crucial if we are talking about
evolution, relationship, understanding natureÆs diversity. People who are
not interested in these matters, please go on using paraphyletic groups. But
use trivial names, not scientific names. After all, paraphyletic groups are
trivial in a scientific world.

Rienk de Jong

Dr Rienk de Jong
Department of Entomology
National Museum of Natural History
PO Box 9517
2300 RA Leiden
phone +31 71 568 76 52
fax +31 568 76 66
e-mail: jong at

> -----Oorspronkelijk bericht-----
> Van:  Peter Stevens [SMTP:peter.stevens at MOBOT.ORG]
> Verzonden:    dinsdag 8 januari 2002 23:53
> Onderwerp:    Re: Paraphyly=mistakes? (There's the rub)
> There are two issues here, recognition and understanding.  Yes, no-one
> will
> argue that many paraphyletic groups are recognisable.  But my hunch is
> that
> they are rarely (I would hate to say never) interpreted as if they are
> paraphyletic, unless one is told otherwise.  The structure of "folk"
> taxonomies is pretty much hierarchical in the same sense as a "Linnaean"
> hierarchy and in the same sense as Darwin's box-in-box classification.  I
> think that we are talking about nouns and adjectives and such-like things
> here.
> Peter S.
>  >>Listers,
> >
> >         I've tried not to say anything and let everyone else flesh this
> >one out, but this discussion has gone around before and I'll say
> something
> >short along the lines of what I've said before.
> >
> >         Okay, so paraphyletic groups do not include all of the original
> >ancestors' descendents, and may not represent what some people would call
> >"natural" or "real" groups.  I say, so what?  It doesn't mean that a
> >paraphyletic group is not a useful way of communication.  Many people
> have
> >an idea of what "reptiles" means, or "moths" means.  I personally feel,
> >"natural/real" or not, if the person using a specific grouping *knows*
> that
> >grouping is paraphyletic, and, under appropriate circumstances, passes
> that
> >information along to the audience, there shouldn't really be any
> >problem.  If some want to call this a mistake, that's their choice.
> >
> >         james
> >
> >
> >James K. Adams
> >Phone: (706)272-4427
> >FAX:  (706)272-2235
> >Visit the Georgia Lepidoptera Website:
> >

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