[Taxacom] Cladifications are NOTclassifications(MonaLisadrooling)

Richard Pyle deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
Wed Aug 2 15:02:16 CDT 2006

> To abstract the abstract: a classification is an 
> interpretation of phylogeny using scientific nomenclature, 
> and some people think it's useful to do this for various 
> reasons.  My point was that it's the phylogeny we're really 
> interested in moreso than the nomenclature we apply to it in 
> the form of a classification.  At least that's my interest, 
> and maybe that of Rich.
> [P.S. I'm definitely on board with your proposed solution to 
> the quagmire!  
> Rich: Well, that's two of us.  Two more and the snowball will 
> be rolling!]

Sort of....  What I was endorsing was (my perception of) your advocation of
somewhat decoupling phylogenies and nomenclature, so that we continue
investigating phylogenies using cladograms and other modes of communication
at will, without disrupting otherwise stable Linnean nomenclature.  When the
phylogenies have stabilized with some degreee of consilience of data, and
the taxonomic community at large deems it appropriate to rearrange the
nomenclature accordingly (i.e., the cost of disrupting nomenclatural
stability is more than offset by the improvement in communication value of
revised nomenclatural terms and hierarchy), then the nomenclature changes.  

I think the problem is that people have tried to use Linnaean nomenclature
as a tool to communicate phylogenetic hypotheses, rather than use
phylogentic hypotheses as one (of perhaps several) line(s) of evidence to
shape nomenclature. The first problem is that nomenclature "wants" to be
stable, but at this point in history, many phylogenetic hypotheses are not
at all stable. The second problem is that we, as a scientific community, are
not on the same page about what, exactly, we think the nomenclature should
reflect (i.e., there is variation in the extent of our "monophilia").

The only reason for my "Sort of..." hesitancy is that I'm actually not all
that personally interested in phylogenies -- not because I think they're
uninteresting per se; but rather because I think the field of investigating
and understanding phylogenetic history hasn't yet matured sufficiently to
the point where I find the answers intellectually satisfying.  I'm
personally much more interested in building the catalog for the biodiversity
library before too many books have been lost -- something that relies very
heavily on nomenclature, but not so much on phylogenies.

> But doesn't it seem feasible (especially with the 
> introduction of molecular analysis into the equation) that 
> eventually there will be less and less variation in 
> phylogenetic hypothesis generation as our techniques are 
> refined?

It certainly seems feasible to me.  With the caveat that I also predict that
as we improve our techniques for reconstructing phylogenies, we will come to
regard the bifurcating branches of cladograms overly simplistic for
representing "true" phylogenetic history -- especially down near the

> However, perhaps I should have proposed a moratorium on 
> classification rather than an abandonment.  It just annoys me 
> sometimes to see all the classifications of higher taxa, and 
> the revisions of the same higher classifications, then the 
> rerevisions of the same higher classifications, etc., when 
> the planetary biodiversity is being destroyed daily without 
> even being documented as to what once existed.  

YES!!!!  I'm definitely on board with that!  Nomenclature exists for the
benefit of communication.  Instability of nomenclature interferes with its
utility as a communicative tool.  I certainly don't disagree with the
practice of occassionally revising nomenclature to reflect a better
understanding of the "biology" (particulrlary in terms of a modern
interpreted phylogeny) of the organisms we're naming. I just think that the
current pace of phylogentic revision is so fast that using nomenclature as a
tool to communicate the phylogentic hypothesis du joir results in too much
nomenclatural instability, thereby defeating its overall communicative


Taxacom mailing list
Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu

More information about the Taxacom mailing list