"types" - was Barcoding (animal) life

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Wed Feb 5 16:06:59 CST 2003

Fred Schueler wrote:

>* I've been grumped at before for saying this - but the Aristotelian,
>non-Darwinian, baggage that goes with Linnaean nomenclature is the
>higher categories. Leave them off a classification and what have you

The ability to communicate. Even the Dewey Decimal System has higher
categories to help people find things.

>Anybody who recognizes the names will have a feeling for what the
>taxa are, and for others they're just steps in the hierarchy, even if
>not decorated with "Subtribe" or "Superfamily."

I respectfully beg to differ - STRONGLY. Any non-expert in a
taxonomic group needs - REALLY *needs* - that hierarchical framework
if they are to ever figure out what something is, or learn how to
tell what things are. There is no one "master key" of all life on
Earth that lets you go from random unidentified organism down to
species. Keys work hierarchically - you go from one key in one
resource to another more refined key published in an entirely
different resource, to another, to another, until finally you get
down to a key that IDs species - and you MUST have labels for those
steps in the hierarchy, because the information and the tools
involved in retrieving that information are *necessarily* hierarchic
and always will be. When one person calls something a family and
another calls the same taxon a subfamily it's confusing, yes, but it
doesn't mean the entire hierarchic approach should be thrown out!

>   If we're going to have
>appendices attached to the names of taxa, it seems that there are three
>options: overall phenetic difference from the sister group, overall
genetetic difference from the sister group, and date of origin.

Those latter two are NOT options for general use across all taxa.
Again, not every taxon in existence is something we can get a genetic
sequence for, and it's entirely unrealistic to expect taxonomy to
*ever* use genetics as a foundation; it can only be an *adjunct*,
another tool in the systematist's kit, since it can only be applied
to a certain subset of the taxasphere. Molecular taxonomy is great, I
admit, and I encourage and assist colleagues who pursue it, but it's
not some magic pipeline to the Almighty that is going to answer all
our prayers, or bring the blindly stumbling morphologists into the
light of day, and we certainly cannot, in any way, make it mandatory
*anywhere* in the systematic process. Use whatever analogy you like:
cart before the horse, tail wagging the dog, etc., but it's the same
in the end.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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