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

Doug Yanega dyanega at ucr.edu
Mon Jun 18 16:55:24 CDT 2012

Rod wrote:

>Hi Doug,
>I'm puzzled as to why keeping the name unchanged is only possible 
>with a computerised system, while changing names willy-nilly is the 
>best method without computers?!

First, your proposal is - despite your rebuttal - the same thing as 
having a uninomial. If "Drosophila melanogaster" is an invariant text 
string used for a taxon in the actual genus Sophophora, then the only 
difference between that and the original proposals for uninomials is 
that there is no hyphen.

Second, my point is that if you disassociate the name that is used 
for a taxon from the taxonomic hierarchy to which it belongs (which 
is exactly what you are proposing, especially given that often the 
original genus isn't even in the same family as the actual family - 
e.g., many of Linnaeus' names), then you cannot possibly hope to 
allow non-experts to know how any given taxon fits into the 
classification without a functioning hyperlinked LSID system in place 
- because otherwise EVERY non-expert will assume the "genus name" 
they see in print is part of a classificatory hierarchy, since that's 
how it has *always* worked. That's what I mean by "cultural inertia". 
[Note also that this glosses over a major and horrific side-effect; 
in order for your proposal to work, it would have to be retroactive 
to all existing names, so the vast majority of species in existence 
would suddenly find themselves with "resurrected" pseudo-genus names 
- all the common butterflies would be Papilio again, the bees would 
be Apis, the wasps would be Vespa, and so forth - it would be the 
taxonomic equivalent of a zombie apocalypse! And, no, you couldn't 
just pick an arbitrary cutoff date for when genus names would stop 
being altered, because there is no consensus for the generic 
placement of many existing taxa!]

You can't just issue a worldwide memo saying "Oh, FYI, the genus 
names used in printed scientific names are no longer used in 
classification, effective immediately. - The Management". If you want 
to make that radical a change to how names work, then you'd be forced 
to publish everything online, and give people hyperlinked LSIDs so 
they can click on a name and see its classification. That, or you'd 
have to use TWO genus names from now on (plus subgenus where 
applicable), so part of the name would reflect the classification, 
and the other would reflect the original published combination. So, 
e.g., the European paper wasp would become "Polistes (Polistes) 
[Vespa] dominula dominula (Christ, 1791)". All that does is add 
another level of unwieldiness.

>Isn't the key separating names from relationships - relationships 
>being the task of phylogenetics.

Again, if names have always reflected relationships, suddenly 
disassociating them will create chaos unless you have a convenient 
workaround. If you can convince people that you have such a 
workaround, maybe you can sell people on the idea - I just don't see 
it happening any time soon. Besides which, bear in mind that a 
non-trivial number of the world's taxonomists do not or did not 
organize their classifications using phylogenetic principles, so the 
*only* evidence we have of their hypotheses of relationships are 
their names.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314        skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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