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

Roderic Page r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk
Tue Jun 19 02:37:53 CDT 2012

Nico has put the issue quite elegantly:

"The inference gains that come with these names/causal properties associations (seem to have, historically) outweigh(ed) the costs of tracking changes."

It seems to me we have two alternative ways of naming things. Once we've coined a name, either:

1. names don't change when notions of relationship change, hence we can't (necessarily) infer relationships from name, or

2. names change when notions of relationship change, hence we can infer relationships from names

Option 1 means names are stable (great for information retrieval) but don't tell you much about relationships (indeed, may be positively misleading if read literally).

Option 2 means names are (usually) informative about relationships at some level, but are liable to change at any time.

Option 1 means we can't use names to convey relationship, so we need some other way to do this (e.g., phylogenetic trees)

Option 2 means we can't retrieve all we know about a taxon by searching on a single name, so we need a way to track all name changes over time (e.g., a global database of synonyms).

Taxonomic practise follows option 2, but without a database of synonyms. Arguably in the past option 1 would have been difficult to implement given the varied notion of what "related" might mean. Given that the last few decades have seen "related" become fairly explicitly defined in terms of evolutionary history, might option 1 not be worth reconsidering?



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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