[Taxacom] Does the species name have to change when it moves genus?

Roger Burks burks.roger at gmail.com
Mon Jun 18 16:30:55 CDT 2012

The answers are: inertia and controversy.

My understanding of the past was that at one time, the genus and
species name were considered to be non-arbitrary in their informative
value. Some early workers apparently attributed huge significance to
the genus.

When I first started in this field, I asked these same questions. The
responses generally consisted of fierce opposition to the idea that
such questions should be asked at all, much less seriously debated.
Some ideas that had been fiercely resisted at that time are now widely
implemented (such as a permanent naming system that stands beside the
current nomenclature).

The problem with freezing species name combinations has been due
mainly to some power struggles between the camps who favor original
combinations over "widely used" combinations. New combinations are
recognized once published, but they are really just proposals where
current usage is concerned.They are not considered law, as far as the
scope of this conversation is concerned. No authority exists to really
say what combination is actually "approved"--at least this is what I
was taught at that time (which was a time with more resistance to
change than what we see today).

Going back to original combinations would be more nearly objective,
but would cause more short-term instability and annoyance than any
other option. Trying to choose an approved current combination, I was
told at least, would require a solid stand on what combination should
exist as "valid" despite differing taxonomic opinions. I thought this
problem could be overcome, but all my peers at the time disagreed.


On Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 2:18 PM, Roderic Page <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk> wrote:
> OK, I know this is what we do, but my question is "why do we do this?"
> As names change over time it becomes a major challenge to find everything published about a taxon. Some groups, such as frogs, are especially prone to name changes as their classification is unstable. Frogs have a pretty good online database detailing name changes, but most animal groups lack this, leaving people like me floundering around trying to make sense of multiple names why may or may not be for the same thing.
> It seems to me that names should be unique and stable. We don't change the name of a species called "africanus" if we discover that the specimen locality was actually from Australia, nor do we change the name "maximus" if we subsequently discover a bigger species. But we do if we move it to a new genus. Why?
> Presumably it's because we like the idea of being able to interpret the name - two members of the same genus are presumably more closely related to each other than to a species in a different genus. But demonstrably that is often untrue (otherwise we wouldn't have all the name changes due to moving species to different genera), and we've learnt not to interpret the name literally when inferring any biological attributes, so why the desire to have the name match some current notion of classification? Why not simply accept that we can't infer relationships from the name?
> It seems to be that if we simply stopped trying to make names reflect classification, at a stroke we'd remove perhaps the primary cause of nomenclatural instability. For example, the recent case of Drosophila melanogaster would be a non-issue. It's "Drosophila melanogaster" regardles sof whether it's nested in the part of the fly tree that includes Sophophora. The relationships of the taxon would have no bearing on its name.
> Discuss.
> ---------------------------------------------------------
> Roderic Page
> Professor of Taxonomy
> Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
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