[Taxacom] Taxacom Digest, Vol 75, Issue 15

Nico Franz nico.franz at asu.edu
Mon Jun 18 23:35:21 CDT 2012

Dear Rob et al.:

   Higher-level names, given a certain level of stability of evolutionary
characteristics of the corresponding taxa (not always the case..), can
serve as shorthands for those clustered characteristics. The inference
gains that come with these names/causal properties associations (seem to
have, historically) outweigh(ed) the costs of tracking changes. In that
sense I would suspect that biological names, as vehicles for encoding
scientific hypotheses, are no different from terms specific to other
sciences. So, in an abstract sense, maybe the first task for someone
arguing for a partial decoupling of name hierarchies and inferred trait
hierarchies, is to see if other sciences have tried this, and what their
experiences were. Though one could make the argument that biology should be
different from those disciplines.



Nico M. Franz, Ph.D.
Associate Professor & Curator of Insects
School of Life Sciences
PO Box 874501
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-4501

Office: (480) 965-2036
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> Message: 2
> Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2012 19:18:22 +0100
> From: Roderic Page <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>
> Subject: [Taxacom] Does the species name have to change when it moves
>        genus?
> To: taxacom <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu>
> Message-ID: <0164EAD9-955D-46CA-8A6F-518F738F9018 at bio.gla.ac.uk>
> Content-Type: text/plain;       charset=us-ascii
> 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
> 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
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