[Taxacom] Generic type of large genus belongs in different genus

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Mon Apr 8 17:13:38 CDT 2013

Actually, all this is confusing several distinct issues. We have a half-baked notion that a species has a "current name", possibly different from its original combination, and that this "current name" should act as a unique identifier for the species! Rubbish! And all this has nothing to do with "instability", which is more about synonymy, i.e. a change in the specific epithet, not about changes in combination. Original combinations are objective unique identifiers for species, with the caveat that in cases of homonymy, the original combination is objectively replaced by that of the first valid replacement name. "Current names" are subjective hypotheses of relationships ... like it or not! There simply is no problem in the case, for example, of Drosophila melanogaster, as long as the specific epithet stays as 'melanogaster', and as long as it is clear that we are talking about the same species as was originally described as Drosophila melanogaster by
 Meigen in 1830. So, ideally, any publication which uses the combination Sophophora melanogaster just needs to state once at the beginning that it is the same species as was originally described as Drosophila melanogaster by Meigen in 1830. But for some reason, Rod wants to ban the use of Sophophora melanogaster, and stick forever with JUST Drosophila melanogaster! But why? I can see no reason for such a position. Similarly, Kim seems to see a problem here, and seems to think that if people start using Sophophora melanogaster, then the link will be lost to the huge pile of past literature dealing nominally with Drosophila melanogaster, as if we won't know that they are the same species! This also seems very strange to me!

From: Roderic Page <r.page at bio.gla.ac.uk>
To: TAXACOM <taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu> 
Sent: Monday, 8 April 2013 7:39 PM
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Generic type of large genus belongs in different genus

It seems to me that this discussion makes a mockery of notion that nomenclature is separate from taxonomy. Once you have bionomial names, and insist on those names being "meaningful" (i.e., the genus name tells you something about relationships) then you have a recipe for instability.

The ICZN decision regarding Drosophila melanogaster was the right one in my opinion, but for the wrong reasons. Why does it matter if Drosophila melanogaster sits in a phylogeny next to some Sophophora species? What matters is its relationships, not what we call it. 

Names are a poor way to convey relationships, why burden them with this role? If you have no other way of conveying relationships then perhaps the trade off between stability and meaning seems worthwhile. But we do have powerful ways of visualising relationships, so it seems perverse to continue to change names (thus annoying people who use them) in the hope that names remain "meaningful". We don't expect the name of an organism to be meaningful ("maximus" might not be the biggest species, "africanus" might come from Australia), can we not let this last scrap of meaning go and save us (and the wider community) some grief?



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
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rdmpage
Twitter: http://twitter.com/rdmpage
Blog: http://iphylo.blogspot.com/
Home page: http://taxonomy.zoology.gla.ac.uk/rod/rod.html
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roderic_D._M._Page
Citations: http://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?hl=en&user=4Z5WABAAAAAJ
ORCID id: http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7101-9767

Taxacom Mailing List
Taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu

The Taxacom Archive 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

Celebrating 26 years of Taxacom in 2013.

More information about the Taxacom mailing list