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

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Mon Jun 18 17:34:32 CDT 2012

Dear Doug,

On 18 Jun 2012, at 22:55, Doug Yanega wrote:

> 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.

Sure, but just so we're clear that I'm not advocating changing the way a binomial is written.

> 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!]

If the genus part of a bionomial name is subject to change then how, exactly, do I work out where it fits in the classification? If, for example, I look at frog names in the literature over the last few decades, they are being bounced around all sorts of different genera. Anyone looking at this is going to struggle to figure out what names are the same, never mind where they fit in any frog classification. There's a big literature on phylogeny, development, ecology, disease, etc. that uses multiple names for the same thing. Why is this a good thing?

Why does it have to be retroactive? Why not simply decide to change existing practice and say from some date on lets leave names as they are? If there's no consensus, lets just make a decision (or leave it to the first person who cares enough to tackle the group). In any event, at no point did I say let's roll everything back and start again.

> 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.

Publishing everything online wouldn't actually be a bad thing, and it's pretty clearly where we are heading. 

At no point am I suggesting we have to burden names further with their history. Just give me a name and stop mucking around with it.

>> 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.

I guess I'm arguing that overloading the names with meaning (i.e., expecting them to tell us something about relationships) is the root cause of much (most?) synonymy, which in turn makes taxonomy difficult to use. Is it not time to rethink this practice?



> Peace,
> -- 
> 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)
>              http://cache.ucr.edu/~heraty/yanega.html
>   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
>         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82
> _______________________________________________
> Taxacom Mailing List
> Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> http://mailman.nhm.ku.edu/mailman/listinfo/taxacom
> The Taxacom archive going back to 1992 may be searched with either of these methods:
> (1) by visiting http://taxacom.markmail.org
> (2) a Google search specified as:  site:mailman.nhm.ku.edu/pipermail/taxacom  your search terms here

Roderic Page
Professor of Taxonomy
Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences
Graham Kerr Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK

Email: r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Tel: +44 141 330 4778
Fax: +44 141 330 2792
Skype: rdmpage
AIM: rodpage1962 at aim.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1112517192
Twitter: http://twitter.com/rdmpage
Blog: http://iphylo.blogspot.com
Home page: http://taxonomy.zoology.gla.ac.uk/rod/rod.html

More information about the Taxacom mailing list