[Taxacom] Call for proxy votes for the forthcoming International Botanical Congress

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Wed Jul 6 01:17:30 CDT 2011

isn't it a subjective taxonomic matter, up to the individual to decide for 
themselves? I see no science in a "collective decision"...

From: "Thiele, Kevin" <Kevin.Thiele at dec.wa.gov.au>
To: "taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu" <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
Sent: Wed, 6 July, 2011 5:30:03 PM
Subject: [Taxacom] Call for proxy votes for the forthcoming International 
Botanical Congress

A very important issue will be debated and decided at the forthcoming 
International Botanical Congress in Melbourne in a little over a week, brought 
to the fore by questions around the application of the name Acacia.

You may know that Acacia nomenclature has generated a lot of controversy in the 
taxonomic, nomenclatural and wider community. Essentially, an argument has 
developed over whether the name Acacia should be used for Australian or 
African-American species of Acacia sens. lat. At the last Congress in Vienna a 
decision was taken to retain the name for Australia. Since then, a vocal group 
hostile to this decision has campaigned to have the it reversed at the Melbourne 
Congress. In essence, they are seeking to have the process used in Vienna 
declared invalid and hence set aside.

The votes that will be taken on this issue have much wider implications than 
simply a resolution of the Acacia issue, possibly including far-reaching 
consequences for the future conduct of botanical nomenclature. This email is to 
encourage institutions that are unable to attend the Melbourne IBC Nomenclature 
Section meeting to consider being represented there by proxy. It may well be 
that proxy votes are critical for many of the votes that will be taken there.

If you have an interest in this matter, agree with the position outlined below, 
and would like to have your vote counted, please consider casting a proxy vote 
at the Melbourne IBC (note that only institutions may cast proxy votes). Details 
on how to do this are at the end of the email below.

Apologies for the length of this email, but these are somewhat complex matters. 
Note that the Melbourne Nomenclature Section meeting is a little over a week 
away, so if you are convinced after reading this that the issue is important, 
please act without delay.

If you're still interested, please read on.


Kevin Thiele
Curator, Western Australian Herbarium (PERTH)


The five sections below provide (1) a summary of the original proposal to 
conserve Acacia, (2) a summary of the events in Vienna and the subsequent 
controversy and opposing positions, (3) an outline of the potential negative 
consequences of the proposed Melbourne challenge to the Vienna decision, (4) an 
outline of the process for casting proxy votes and (5) links to the most 
important references for further reading on both sides of the debate.

1. The conservation of Acacia with a conserved type

The large, cosmopolitan genus Acacia sens. lat. is now widely recognized to be 
para- or polyphyletic, comprising five distinct clades, each of which is now 
treated as a distinct genus. Two of these clades are relevant to the current 
debate. One is a large, predominantly Australian group of 1021 species, the 
other is a smaller, pan-tropical group comprising 163 species in Africa, Asia, 
the Americas and northern Australia.

The historical type of Acacia, A. scorpioides (L.) W. Wight (= A. nilotica (L.) 
Delile), belongs to the smaller pan-tropical group, so if simple priority 
applied then the name Acacia would be retained for this group.

In 2003, a proposal to conserve Acacia with a new type, the Australian species 
A. penninervis, was published (Orchard & Maslin, 2003). The proposal was made on 
the grounds of nomenclatural stability, as required by the Code. Central to the 
proponents' arguments was that conserving Acacia with a type from the much 
larger Australian group would be least disruptive globally because many fewer 
names would need to be changed. They also argued that a number of Australian 
species of Acacia are significant environmental weeds while others form the 
basis of large, global, economically important industries in timber and other 
products and that these industries would be substantially disadvantaged by a 
name change in their literature and marketed products. See Orchard & Maslin 
(2003) for additional arguments supporting the case.

Acceptance of the Orchard & Maslin proposal would mean that the 163 pan-tropical 
species would be called Vachellia while the 1021 mostly Australian species would 
continue to be called Acacia; its rejection would retain the name Acacia for the 
pan-tropical species while requiring the adoption of the name Racosperma for the 
Australian species.

In brief, conservation proposals such as this one are handled in the following 

(1). A proposal to conserve a name is published in Taxon.
(2). The Committee for Vascular Plants (formerly called the Committee for 
Spermatophyta) considers the proposal, seeks submissions, and eventually votes 
on whether to support it or not. A 60% majority vote in favour is needed for the 
proposal to go to the next step.
(3). The General Committee of the IBC, after considering the Committee for 
Vascular Plant's report, votes on whether to accept it or not. A 60% majority 
vote in favour is needed for the proposal to go to the next step.
(4). The Nomenclature Section of the IBC, after considering the General 
Committee's report, votes on whether to accept it or not. If accepted, the 
Nomenclature Section includes the proposal in a Resolution submitted to the 
final Plenary Session of the Congress.
(5). If the Nomenclature Section's Resolution is approved by the Plenary, all 
included amendments and proposals are adopted in the International Code of 
Botanical Nomenclature and its Appendices.

In the Acacia case, the proposal was considered by the Committee for 
Spermatophyta and the General Committee, both of which voted to support it by 
the required 60% majority. Accordingly, the General Committee reported to the 
Nomenclature Section of the Vienna Congress and recommended that the proposal be 
accepted. The Chairman of the Committee for Spermatophyta published the reasons 
why that committee voted in support of the proposal (see Brummitt 2004).

2. The Vienna IBC, and the controversy since

The Report of the General Committee regarding Acacia was presented on the last 
day of the Nomenclature Section meeting in Vienna. Before considering the 
matter, the President of the Section recommended that, because both Committees 
who had previously considered this proposal had passed it with a required 
supermajority of 60%, a 60% vote against would be required to reject the General 
Committee's report and recommendation. This recommendation was accepted by the 
meeting without dissent. Following a lengthy debate, 54% of votes were cast to 
reject the General Committee's decision; as this was less than the required 60% 
majority, the Committee's decision was not rejected. Subsequently, at the final 
plenary session of the Congress, the decisions of the Nomenclature Section, 
including the decision on Acacia, were ratified by a large majority, and Acacia 
was listed as conserved with A. penninervis as the conserved type in the Vienna 

Since Vienna, opponents of the decision taken at that meeting have raised a 
number of objections, principally to the process followed in Vienna rather than 
against the original proposal. In particular, they have argued that the 
requirement at the meeting for a 60% supermajority vote to reject the General 
Committee's report was unacceptable and an example of "minority rule". They have 
also argued a number of nomenclatural matters regarding the applicability of 
various Code articles in this case. See Moore et al. (2010) for further reading.

Supporters of the Vienna process, including people who voted both for and 
against the issue at that meeting, have argued that the process was proper and 
that the decision should stand. They have pointed out that the two specialist 
Committees appointed by IAPT to consider such proposals both approved and 
recommended the proposal, and have argued that the Nomenclature Section meeting 
should not be able to overturn their recommendations with a simple majority. 
McNeill & Turland (2010) recommended that the correct way forward for those 
objecting to the Vienna outcome would be to submit a new proposal for the 
conservation of Acacia for consideration at Melbourne IBC. However, this 
recommendation has not been taken up and the scene is now set for a robust 
debate in Melbourne.

A more detailed synopsis of the above matters is provided in Thiele et al. 

3. Why the Melbourne vote matters

The challenge to the Vienna vote is a challenge to an established process that 
has until now worked well. Both Committees were convinced largely by the sheer 
weight-of-numbers argument in the original proposal: if rejected, >1000 species 
would need to be renamed; if accepted, only c. 160 species would need to be 
renamed (the remaining species in Acacia s.l. need to be renamed anyway). The 
Committees considered the matter very carefully, calling for submissions and 
weighing all arguments both for and against, exactly what they were established 
to do. That both decided in favour of the proposal indicates that it was 
properly conceived, well-supported and was, they felt, in the best interests of 
global nomenclature.

However, there are also larger issues at stake here. An important contention of 
those seeking to overturn the Vienna decision is that procedures adopted by the 
2005 Nomenclature Session meeting were deeply flawed. In particular, they object 
to the requirement for a supermajority (60%) to reject the General Committee 
report; they have proposed instead that Melbourne and subsequent Congresses 
should require a supermajority to accept a General Committee report (a reversal 
of the Vienna process) and that the Code should be amended to mandate this. I 
regard that this is a dangerous idea for several reasons:

(1). It would create a perverse imbalance between proposals to amend the Code 
and proposals to conserve or reject names. Effectively, proposals such as that 
on Acacia must pass two steep hurdles before reaching the Nomenclature Session. 
Requiring a further supermajority to accept a Committee report adds a third 
hurdle. By comparison, proposals to amend the Code itself face only a single 
hurdle (the Nomenclature Session vote itself). This would be a perverse outcome, 
given that proposals to amend the Code are often much more important than 
proposals to conserve or reject names.

(2). It changes the intent of the Code on a matter that has been agreed for the 
last half-century. The Code clearly devolves some responsibility for deciding 
proposals on conservation and rejection to the Committees. It recommends that 
authors should follow existing usage of names until the General Committee 
reports (Recommendation 14A.1), then should commence using the name as approved 
by the General Committee "subject to the decision of a later International 
Botanical Congress" (Art. 14.14). This clearly assumes that the Congress is very 
likely to endorse the Committees' recommendations. If the intent of the Code 
were that the Congress has all the power over such proposals and the Committees 
are of little importance, it would require authors to follow existing usage 
until the Congress itself mandates the change and not before. Hence, the 
proposal to overturn the Vienna process is a proposal to change the clear intent 
of the Code.

(3). It will create nomenclatural uncertainty and confusion. The Code seeks to 
create stability and to reduce uncertainty in these matters, especially in the 
years between Congresses. If the three-hurdle system is introduced, it will 
become much easier for disenchanted and vocal groups to overturn Committees' 
recommendations at Nomenclature Session meetings, creating great uncertainty for 
the (up to 6 years) between a General Committee decision and the following 

There is a danger that, in order to get the desired result on Acacia, some at 
the Congress will seek to establish a process and perhaps to amend the Code in a 
way that is deleterious for nomenclature. I believe that the nomenclatural 
process we have and which worked well in Vienna, should be supported against 
these moves.

4. What you can do about it

Votes at the Nomenclature Section may be cast by registered delegates and by 
institutions represented by registered delegates. Delegates may also carry to 
the meeting and cast proxy votes from recognized institutions that have been 
assigned votes. If your institution is not able to send any delegates to the 
Melbourne Nomenclature Section and if you would like to send a proxy vote, in 
order to have your say on this issue, there are two main alternatives. You may 
contact a colleague who will be there and assign your proxy vote to them 
(individual delegates may carry up to 15 votes including their own). If you 
prefer, please feel free to respond to this email, and I can arrange for a 
carrier for your proxy vote. Proxies provided for this purpose would be deployed 
only for those votes directly relevant to the Acacia issue.

Note that you will need to provide anyone carrying your proxy vote with either a 
statement on your institution's letterhead to that effect, or the completed 
proxy notification form that each herbarium should have received, notifying them 
of their voting entitlement.

Again, if you are convinced after reading this that the issue is important and 
wish to assign your proxy votes, please act without delay.

5. Further reading

If you would like to read further on this issue, I suggest the following key 

Orchard & Maslin (2003) - the original proposal to conserve Acacia with an 
Australian type 

Brummitt (2004) - report of the Permanent Nomenclature Committee regarding the 

Moore et al (2010) - the principal paper for the case against the Vienna 

Thiele et al (2011) - the principal paper for the case supporting the Vienna 

McNeil & Turland (2010) - paper from the Nomenclature Bureau of the Vienna 
meeting supporting its process  

This email, together with any attachments, is intended for the
addressee only. It may contain confidential or privileged information.
If you are not the intended recipient of this email, please notify
the sender, delete the email and attachments from your system and
destroy any copies you may have taken of the email and its attachments.
Duplication or further distribution by hardcopy, by electronic means
or verbally is not permitted without permission.

Taxacom Mailing List
Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu

The Taxacom archive going back to 1992 may be searched with either of these 

(1) by visiting http://taxacom.markmail.org

(2) a Google search specified as:  site:mailman.nhm.ku.edu/pipermail/taxacom  
your search terms here

More information about the Taxacom mailing list