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

Vladimir Gusarov vladimir.gusarov at nhm.uio.no
Mon Jun 18 16:57:16 CDT 2012

Dear Rod,

As I understand it, one reason we keep doing this is that a valid 
generic name can be very informative. In the group I study, the family 
Staphylinidae, there are some 50,000 valid species names. The number of 
valid generic names is much lower. As a result, the percentage of 
generic  names I am familiar with is much higher than the percentage of 
species I know by name. In the Palaearctic fauna, I know most of the 
genera. These generic names are useful to me only because they point to 
certain groups in the up-to-date classification, which eventually will 
become an equivalent to pointing to certain clades in the tree of life.

When species 1 is moved from genus Leptusa to genus Geostiba, I 
instantly realize that this species is no longer treated as a member of 
tribe Homalotini, but instead belongs to the tribe Geostibini. Were the 
species-genus combination frozen, the name would cease to reflect the 
position of the species in the system, i.e. it becomes uninformative. I 
will not be able to figure out from the name alone that Leptusa sp. 1 is 
in fact a member of the subfamily (Geostibini) different from the one 
where the type species of Leptusa belongs.

Perhaps an even more illuminating example is hundreds of names 
originally proposed (by early workers) in the genus Staphylinus, and 
subsequently transferred to the (many dozens of) genera now residing in 
different subfamilies.



On 18.06.2012 20:18, Roderic Page 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
> College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
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> University of Glasgow
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Vladimir Gusarov, Ph.D.
Curator of Entomology
Department of Zoology
Natural History Museum
University of Oslo                           \\ /
P.O. Box 1172 Blindern                   ooooDD0-0C
NO-0318 Oslo                                 // \
Tel +47 22851703
Fax +47 22851837
email: vladimir.gusarov at nhm.uio.no

Visiting address (and non - P.O. Box address for courier deliveries):
Department of Zoology
Natural History Museum
University of Oslo
Sars Gate 1
NO-0562 Oslo

Insect collection: http://www.nhm.uio.no/english/research/nsi/collection/
National Center for Insect Biodiversity: 
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Internet resources for Staphylinidae: 


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