Paraphyly and names

Thomas Pape thomas.pape at NRM.SE
Wed Jan 30 12:34:55 CST 2002

Skála Zdenek wrote:
> ... You simply prefer to have 2^n-1 taxa (given n=number of species).

We seem to agree that there is one particular Tree of Life with numerous branches. As scientists we want to convey information relating to certain branches. To facilitate a mutually beneficial flow of information - communication - we need NAMES for those branches. We do not need to discuss how many taxa one scientist for whatever reason "prefers" if we are concerned with matter-of-fact reality. Given a cladogram we can only discuss particular branches (or groups of branches) by referring to them. We may choose to refer to (use names for) monophyletic groups - or even for paraphyletic groups. Yet paraphyletic groups are less efficient for communication relating to origin of evolutionary novelties. If we - as it seems - agree on the Tree of Life, our continued quest for further detail necessitates that we communicate about those monophyletic groups. Whatever any particular scientist 'feels' is most 'practical' is an entirely different matter.

> I would only like to recall that taxonomy 
> was (and still is, by some at least) originally intended to reduce biological diversity in a way that can be both 
> informative and practical. .....  phylogeny reconstruction alone can well live without taxa.

Taxonomy is a communicative tool and much more than fitting the Tree of Life into a set of hierarchical ranks.

Thomas Pape, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet

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