Should we ditch infageneric ranks?

Karl Magnacca kmagnacca at WESLEYAN.EDU
Mon Sep 26 17:18:10 CDT 2005

On 27 Sep 2005 at 2:08, Kevin Thiele wrote:
> We are considering two options:
> 1. Maintain and update the infrageneric taxonomy. To do this, we would need
> to do stat. novs for over half the subgeneric taxa (e.g. from series to
> section, from subgenus to section, from section to series). The result would
> be an equally rich infrageneric classification, but with many rank changes.
> 2. Simply ditch the infrageneric classification, and instead create informal
> species groups and refer people to the cladograms for a full understanding
> of relationships within the new genus. The thinking here is that infraranks
> in the past were introduced mainly to capture previous workers' hypotheses
> of relationships - which are better represented in the new cladograms than
> in formally ranked taxa anyway. So why maintain the infrageneric
> classification?

I would go with (mostly) option 2.  One level of infrageneric taxa
(subgenus or whatever you want to call it) can be useful, but once you
start going beyond that it just gets messy.  This is true even with
informal groupings; one paper on my group of bees (Hylaeus) broke down
an 11-species assemblage into species groups and species sub-groups
until there was only one or two species in each.

Another problem is that infrageneric taxa are often used as a proxy for
real generic divisions.  Hylaeus and Andrena are maintained as genera
that occupy essentially all the species in their subfamilies, largely
because it's harder to distinguish subgenera (often you need the male
genitalia).  The trouble is that when you get to that point, the generic
name is essentially meaningless and you have to identify it to subgenus

Karl Magnacca, USGS-BRD
PO Box 11, Hawaii Natl. Park, HI 96718
"Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has
gotten into the wrong hands."   --Sen. Jesse Helms

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