[Taxacom] Underlying synapomorphy

Don.Colless at csiro.au Don.Colless at csiro.au
Tue Mar 10 22:58:48 CDT 2009

I'm reminded of the ultracladist assertion that fleas "really" have wings; they've just suppressed their development.

Donald H. Colless
CSIRO Div of Entomology
GPO Box 1700
Canberra 2601
don.colless at csiro.au
tuz li munz est miens envirun

From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Kipling (Kip) Will [kipwill at berkeley.edu]
Sent: 08 March 2009 13:37
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] Underlying synapomorphy

"Underlying synapomorphy" is more or less equivalent to the notion of
atavism and largely overlapping with orthogenesis. Taken as hypothesized
explanations of observed patterns these are relatively harmless as long
as one recognizes what is actual observation and what is a good story.
But confusing pattern and process is a venerable part of our field I fear.

If taken as a priori truth, a model of how character state distributions
came to be as they are, or how they "should" be distributed, these can
lead to a dangerous ability to explain away any pattern one does not
like. Or perhaps more accurately, a preferred grouping is determined and
any conflict (patterns of homoplasy)can be dismissed ad hoc. "These
belong in a group because they share an underlying synapomorphy" could
be used to justify a preferred grouping sans any observable evidence
supporting such a grouping. Studies of development or genetics could
provide actual synapomorphies, shared and observable. No one would need
to call them "underlying synapomorphies."


Kipling W. Will
Associate Professor/Insect Systematist
Associate Director,Essig Museum of Entomology

mail to:
137 Mulford Hall
ESPM Dept.- Organisms & Environment Div.
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720

phone 510-642-4296
fax 510-643-5438


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