[Taxacom] Catalogue of Life, ranks, and palatability

Kenneth Kinman kennethkinman at webtv.net
Wed Jul 22 11:29:18 CDT 2009

Dear All, 
       I guess palatability (and user friendliness) of
various taxa and classifications will always be in the mind of the
beholder. I find that it is mostly strict cladists who find taxonomic
ranks unpalatable (especially at higher taxonomic levels; e.g. Class,
Phylum, Kingdom). This is largely because strict cladism (and the
resulting cladifications) tends to generate a sometimes bewildering
overabundance of intermediate categories and formal names to fill them.
That's why I prefer alphanumeric coding and informal clade names for
most intermediate categories. 
       But in the case of very broad groups, like
Unikonta, Bikonta, Excavata, Chromalveolata, I see no big problem in
attaching categorical labels like Subkingdoms or Superphyla. I agree
with Tony and others that ranks make classifications easier to navigate
and remember (and thus more user friendly for most biologists and
non-biologists alike).  Ranks have successfully served those functions
for over 250 years.  Whether the ICZN should once again try to extend
its scope into taxa above the ranks of the family-group is debatable (it
was debated numerous times during the 20th Century). The debate this
time would be further complicated  by a parallel system (PhyloCode)
which obviously discourages ranks (assuming that they ever get around to
stop arguing amongst themselves and actually implement it).           
      As for specific taxon names, palatability is also an
issue. As brought up in the Kingdom Protista thread, I do discriminate
against the name Fungi, even though it is widely used. However, even
today I continue to see people using it to include various groups which
are unrelated to the true fungi. I much prefer the precise name
Eumycota, which not only literally means "true fungi", but it is also
almost always used for only the true fungi. The literature is full of
applications of the names Fungi or Mycota to wider conglomerations that
are clearly polyphyletic (like Vermes). That is why I find Eumycota
quite palatable, and dislike the names Fungi and Mycota.   I was quite
pleased when Tehler's 1988 paper (in the journal Cladistics) was
entitled "A cladistic outline of the Eumycota".      
         Some might say that I should discriminate
against the name Plantae for the same reason, and I actually do
(although not as vehemently). I still prefer Kingdom Metaphyta for the
higher plants, although some prefer the name Embryophyta. As for the
clade (Superphylum?) including Glaucophyta, Rhodophyta, Chlorophyta, and
{{Metaphyta}}, there are three main options: (1) Plantae Cavalier-Smith
1981 (and 1998); (2) Primoplantae Palmer, et al., 2004; and (3)
Archaeplastida Adl, et al., 2005. Take your pick (although I am starting
to sort of like the name Archaeplastida).  By the way, I agree with
Cavalier-Smith, 1998, that Glaucocystophyta is an unnecessary synonym
for Glaucophyta.  It's almost as annoying as the name Protoctista
(instead of Protista).  Anyway, borrowing a phrase from Walter Cronkite,
that's the way it is (from the viewpoint of this particular beholder).
                    Ken Kinman

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