systematics V taxonomy

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 6 04:25:02 CDT 2002

Dear All,
     I wrote the following post several hours ago and decided not to post it
(as I figured I would probably end up irritating the strict
cladists-----once again).   But now I've decided to throw it into the mix as
my 2 cents worth anyway.  What the heck.
           ------ Ken    :-)
Dear Susan,
     I think many biologists would regard taxonomy as a subset of the wider
concept of systematics.  Taxonomy would include activities such as naming,
describing, identifying, and even your basic inventories.  This is the work
some refer to as alpha-taxonomy (which today often includes rRNA sequencing
as well).  Systematics would be much of the other analytical stuff we do
after the basic taxonomic framework has been built.
     Much of the systematics done before Darwin's landmark publication was
basic alpha-taxonomy.  After that, we increasingly see layers upon layers of
evolutionary "systematics" being added to the basic taxonomic framework
(which itself also continues to expand).  Whether one wants to add various
kinds of beta-taxonomy to the concept of "taxonomy" is a matter of taste and
semantics, but most biologists would probably agree systematics is a broader
concept.  If you broaden the concept of taxonomy far enough, it would indeed
become equivalent to systematics.
     My personal view is that taxonomy should refer to only formal
alpha-taxonomy, and we should not be giving formal names to every clade we
discover (or think we have discovered).  When you adopt something like the
Kinman "System", there is a pretty clear distinction between taxonomy and
systematics (the most stable taxa are the taxonomy part, and the more
informal coding reflects the more uncertain relationships between those
taxa).  Pure phylogenetic taxonomy would probably not be a good idea even if
we did have well-developed phylogenies (which we often don't).
     I prefer a more "modular" approach where taxa are more easily
rearranged when old phylogenies are discarded.  For example, the concept of
Diasoma (= Loboconcha) has already been challenged in malacology (and
rightly so), but if bivalves were the first molluscs (as I believe),
cladistic classifications of molluscs above the family level will have to be
largely scrapped and redone after a paradigm shift finally occurs.  It's
seems to be another one of those cladistic house of cards, and some
malacologists are pretty perturbed at me for even suggesting such a thing.
Gastropoda is probably a grade that gave rise to many different groups
(cephalopods, scaphopods, tergomyan monoplacophorans, spiculate molluscs,
and perhaps a number of different worm taxa such as the new Phylum
Gnathifera, platyhelminths, and other groups of extremely derived "slugs").
      This is the kind of thing that continues to convince me that the
cladistic revolution has gone too far.  Although we certainly shouldn't
swing back into a 1950's type eclecticism, I do favor something which
incorporates both the advantages of traditional eclecticism and "new-age"
cladism (and furthermore rejects the worst aspects of each).  That is why I
call it cladisto-eclecticism (even though that has thus far generated a lot
of criticism from both sides).   It is therefore no big surprise to me that
students have difficulty distinguishing between taxonomy and systematics,
since strict cladism has blurred the distinction in a most unfortunate way.
Well, I can already hear the howls of protest on the way, so will simply
leave it at that.  Tomorrow is another day to rehash such things further.
              ------- Ken
>From: "Susan B. Farmer" <sfarmer at GOLDSWORD.COM>
>Reply-To: "Susan B. Farmer" <sfarmer at GOLDSWORD.COM>
>Subject: systematics V taxonomy
>Date: Thu, 5 Sep 2002 17:00:35 -0400
>Several grad students were sitting around discussing/debating the
>differences between systematics and taxonomy.  Are there *really*
>any differences, or is the distincting mostly semantic?
>Susan, curious in Tennessee
>Susan Farmer
>sfarmer at
>Botany Department, University of Tennessee

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