[Taxacom] FW: Call for proxy votes forthe forthcoming International Botanical Congress

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Wed Jul 6 07:26:34 CDT 2011


I'm not a botanical taxonomist so I am not familiar with the state of
affairs concerning Acacia. I note that it is said that "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."

Could someone clarify the above. What is the uncertainty about whether
Acacia is paraphyletic or polyphylectic? If there is uncertainty, why
the rush to change the taxonomy? I presume in my ignorance, that if
paraphyletic, Acacia as currently construed does not include some other
group under another genus (in which case one might just expand Acacia to
include that group), or if polyphyletic, that one or more groups within
Acacia are more closely related to another group and if that is the
case, do such group/s include the type? So what is really the issue here
- paraphyly or polyphyly?

And is this drive for changing things driven by molecular incongruence
with morphological systematics of Acacia? 

I will be interested in some clarification from those involved with
Acacia systematics and taxonomy.

John Grehan





-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Paul Kirk
Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2011 3:49 AM
To: Thiele, Kevin; taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] FW: Call for proxy votes forthe forthcoming
International Botanical Congress

ditto ...

Preamble

1. "... . This Code aims at the provision of a stable method of naming
taxonomic groups, avoiding and rejecting the use of names which may
cause error or ambiguity or throw science into confusion. ..."

nuff said?

In haste,

Paul

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Thiele, Kevin
Sent: 06 July 2011 08:44
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] FW: Call for proxy votes for the forthcoming
International Botanical Congress

Hi Michael,

with all respect, that's exactly what the conservation provisions in the
Code are designed for - there are many more species of Acacia in
Australia than in Africa+America, and hence conserving the name with an
Australian type greatly reduces the global number of name changes
required - surely a good thing on balance.

Cheers - Kevin

-----Original Message-----
From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
[mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Michael Heads
Sent: Wednesday, 6 July 2011 1:50 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Call for proxy votes for the forthcoming
International Botanical Congress

Hi Kevin,

With all respect, I don't think these are 'complex matters'. Africa had
the type and Australia grabbed it. They justified this because they have
more species in it, i.e. for no reason at all.

Michael Heads

Wellington, New Zealand.

My papers on biogeography are at: http://tiny.cc/RiUE0

--- On Wed, 6/7/11, Thiele, Kevin <Kevin.Thiele at dec.wa.gov.au> wrote:


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


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.

Regards

Kevin Thiele
Curator, Western Australian Herbarium (PERTH)


Background

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 steps:

(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 Code.

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. (2011).

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 Congress.

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 papers:

Orchard & Maslin (2003) - the original proposal to conserve Acacia with
an Australian type
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iapt/tax/2003/00000052/00000002/ar
t00031

Brummitt (2004) - report of the Permanent Nomenclature Committee
regarding the proposal
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iapt/tax/2004/00000053/00000003/ar
t00022

Moore et al (2010) - the principal paper for the case against the Vienna
decision
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iapt/tax/2010/00000059/00000004/ar
t00017

Thiele et al (2011) - the principal paper for the case supporting the
Vienna decision
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iapt/tax/2011/00000060/00000001/ar
t00017

McNeil & Turland (2010) - paper from the Nomenclature Bureau of the
Vienna meeting supporting its process
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/iapt/tax/2010/00000059/00000002/ar
t00026



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