[Taxacom] Drosophila melanogaster name change?

Francisco Welter-Schultes fwelter at gwdg.de
Fri Apr 9 06:25:21 CDT 2010

> The case can be solved by creating a mega-genus Drosophila
> containing many species, probably more than the currently included
> 1500 species, so D. melanogaster would keep its genus-species
> combination. This is the responsibility of taxonomists.

> Yes, that is an option, which would generate a genus with 2250+
> species, and with more than 100 secondary homonyms in need a new
> species name. Talk about a nightmare.....

Well, this is basically the same problem you had confronted the 
Commission with. The Commission had to decide, should or should they 
not distort the nomenclature of 1100 species of the funebris 
subgroup? I understood that you do not like to solve problems with 
800 species that you would have to incorporate to Drosophila in 
addition to those which are currently contained (if you like to keep 
the genus Drosophila for melanogaster). The Commission did not like 
to be responsible for creating the same problems concerning the 
mentioned 1100 species. Why should the Commission solve a problem 
that you do not like to solve?

The Commission decided to let you take this decision yourself. If 
taxonomists create such problems, sometimes they must find 
responsible solutions themselves. You still do have alternatives how 
to proceed, including ways to conserve the genus Drosophila for 
melanogaster by taxonomic means.

There is also another way to proceed.

Names were initially invented for the purpose of communication. 
You can publish your studies on phylognetic relationships within this 
group without taking conclusions concerning the change of generic 
No official document says that a generic name must refer to a 
monophyletic unit. This is just a currently widely accepted dogma. 
But it is a dogma. You do not need to follow it. There is no 
objective definition for a genus, as Mayr (1942) proposed it for the 
species. You can also say "we know that as a result of our 
studies Drosophila is likely to represent a polyphyletic genus. But 
we decided to keep using that generic name in the traditional sense 
for not distorting current usage in genus-species combinations of 
well-known organisms". 

These things are decisions you as taxonomists have to take.

In the garden snail Helix aspersa we have the same problem. Known
under this name until the 1990s, then taxonomists argued that the
genus Helix was inappropriate and proposed to place the species in
either Cryptomphalus, Cornu or Cantareus. This poor species is
currently known under 4 generic names and 3 different gender 
declinations. Helix still being by far the most frequently used one.


University of Goettingen, Germany

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