Traits and/or states

Richard Jensen rjensen at SAINTMARYS.EDU
Fri Oct 31 08:57:49 CST 2003

I find it interesting that geneticists often use the word trait in the same
context that Tom Lammers uses state.  For example, the ability to utilize lactose
is a genetic trait, which may or may not be present: a simple binary condition.
Thus, the character would be lactose utilization (or some appropriate formulation
equivalent to this)  and the states would be present/absent.  A verbal formulation
would consist of two statements: "Lactose utilization is present" or "Lactose
utilization is not present."  These two sentences, mutually exclusive, express the
complete range of possibilities for this character.  I suppose one could consider
each observation a separate character, but that introduces an unnecessary



Thomas Lammers wrote:

> At 04:15 PM 10/31/03 +1100, Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU wrote:
> >A state is a state of a character (sensu mihi): e.g., "red" is a state
> >of the character "eye colour". A trait, insofar as it has any formal
> >meaning in taxonomy, would mean to me what I call an "attribute"; e.g.,
> >"has red eyes".
> In other words, "trait" / "attribute" = character + its state?
> I hadn't thought of it that way; I thought of it as a ~synonym of "character."
> I think this whole discussion hinges on what exactly the original poster
> meant by "trait."  As you point out, there *is* no formal definition of
> "trait" in taxonomy.  Perhaps the original poster could clarify the
> question a bit?
> Thomas G. Lammers, Ph.D.
> Assistant Professor and Curator of the Herbarium (OSH)
> Department of Biology and Microbiology
> University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
> Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901-8640 USA
> e-mail:       lammers at
> phone:      920-424-1002
> fax:           920-424-1101
> Plant systematics; classification, nomenclature, evolution, and biogeography
> of the Campanulaceae s. lat.
> Webpages:
> -----------------------------------------------------------
> "Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that stood his ground."
>                                                                -- Anonymous

Richard J. Jensen              | tel: 574-284-4674
Department of Biology      | fax: 574-284-4716
Saint Mary's College         | e-mail: rjensen at
Notre Dame, IN 46556    |

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