[Taxacom] Drosophila melanogaster name change?

Francisco Welter-Schultes fwelter at gwdg.de
Thu Apr 15 19:27:04 CDT 2010

Some thoughts about "What is a genus good for?"

> taxonomic names) that are designed to convey information on  
> relationships (i.e., to which genus a species belongs) 

Originally Linnaeus did not necessarily design the binominal system
for this purpose. The generic name was initially thought as a help for
the non-specialist to understand to which group a species
approximately belongs to. 

The genus-species combination was needed because there were not 
enough uninominal names for all the species. It was 
necessary to be able to repeat specific names without creating 

Linnaeus had probably not invented the genus-species combination in
the intention that some day every species would have its own genus.
Had he anticipated that scientists were easily able to create more 
than 400,000 generic names and finally place every species in its own 
genus - what reason would he have had to combine species and genus?

The binominal system was certainly not created because the 
relationships between species needed to be expressed. This had been
done before. Generic names were used long time before. Linnaeus
invented the binominal system primarily as a tool to facilitate

A genus in Linnaeus' original system was meant as a name
that all zoologists were supposed to know. Mammals were much better
commonly known than insects and molluscs - this was the reason why the
average number of species in a mammalian genus was lower than in an
insect or molluscan genus. 

Linnaeus subdivided various insect genera - but used infrasubgeneric 
terms - he did not to split up those genera, probably because average 
zoologists would not easily remember all the generic names. Linnaeus 
had no problem with 100 or more species being contained in genera 
like Papilio or Phalaena. 

>> 3. Until such solutions are in place there is no practical way for
>> someone to stay up to date and names change anytime and anywhere.
> And it has been like that for 250 years. 

Less than 250. Placing a species in a different genus than before, was
initially a very uncommon action. Initially this was done rarely, not
as commonly as it is done today. In the first decades after 1758 it
was not clear to all authors whether a species that is placed in a
different genus, maintained its identity or should better change its
specific name. 

In 1758, around 4,300 species were known, placed in 340 genera. 
In 1766/1767 Linné listed some 1,600 species in addition - and 
needed only 31 new genera (mostly for new discoveries that could not
be placed in the system). 

In the 1800s more genera were split up, but until 1900 only to a 
moderate extent. This was associated with the specialisation of 
zoology. Until the 1900s - at least in molluscs - zoologists were 
still able to know all the genera used in their discipline off hand.
This changed only after 1900. The average number of species in a 
genus has continuously decreased and is still decreasing, and the 
generic name does not any more have the function it had prior to 
1900. If the trend goes on, we will soon not need the specific name 
any more. 

Most dinosaurs are not known by their specific names, but by their 
generic names. Such a system can also work.


University of Goettingen, Germany

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