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

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Mon Jun 18 17:51:59 CDT 2012

Dear David,

I'm not arguing we turn back the clock and rename Triceratops horridus. Let's freeze it and if someone thinks it belongs someplace else in the tree let's always call it "Triceratops horridus" ( realise that this may well happen anyway given that T. horridus is the type species http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511608377.021 , but I hope you see my point).

It also seems to me that a number of people on this list think that non-specialists are only going to be interested in a few taxa, say those which have common names. Really? We have genomics databases with hundreds of thousands of species, specimen databases with millions of species, and people are using these to tackle all sorts of questions, and taxonomic names (with the variations in spelling, synonyms, etc.) don't make it easy to work with this data.

Lastly, phylocode define names such that they will always fit on a tree, the name itself doesn't change even if the phylogeny does (the scope of what is included in the name may change). In contrast, by convention bionomials do change when the classification changes, which builds instability into the names. 

I've zero expectation that I'm going to convince anyone that this is a sensible idea, but it seems a good time to question "tradition."



On 18 Jun 2012, at 23:17, David Campbell wrote:

> Requiring that the original name be a non-homonym would help with
> relatively few cases in my experience.  Usually you have to track down
> the invalid homonyms anyway to confirm which name was meant in an
> existing identification.  [Hint in light of the fauna I was just
> working on-if you name a new taxon in a very long established and
> diverse genus, avoid common Latin descriptors.]
> Tradition is a significant factor, given that over 250 years of
> literature needs to be taken into account.  If a genus-species
> combination were regarded as fixed, then the question would be "which
> combination?"  Probably the majority of species are not assigned to
> their original genus; many of these recombinations are
> well-established.
> This gets into the Phylocode-ish question of to what extent and in
> what manner should the taxon name reflect the phylogeny.
> Then there's the question of, if a generic and specific epithet pair
> becomes fixed, how do you indicate revised classifications?
> Some original combinations are highly misleading, through homonymy,
> misidentification, or unduly broad early genus concepts.  Changing
> Triceratops horridus back to Bison horridus would be rather unhelpful,
> for example.
> In fact, the standardized common names being proposed for a number of
> taxa function as unchanging epithets.  They are generally being
> developed for the taxa most likely to get attention from
> non-specialists, whereas specialists are likely to recognize
> suspiciously similar epithets in related taxa.
> Including the author and date generally helps, although there are the
> unhelpful authors who either use the same epithet in closely related
> genera, have a memory lapse and create an outright homonym, or reuse
> common descriptors for multiple infraspecific forms within a genus.
> -- 
> Dr. David Campbell
> Collections Assistant
> The Paleontological Research Institution
> 1259 Trumansburg Road
> Ithaca NY 14850
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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

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