[Taxacom] Binomial Nomenclature etc.

David Campbell pleuronaia at gmail.com
Fri Sep 6 13:05:48 CDT 2013

Richard Pyle wrote:

> When I describe a new species, the working hypothesis I have is along the
> lines of:
> "Establishing a new species-group name to represent a set of organisms
> circumscribed by this particular set of characters will facilitate
> communication among biologists more than it will obfuscate communication
> among biologists."

I think this is an important point often lost in suggestions about changing
nomenclature.  Functionally, names need to communicate what organisms we
are talking about.  All names will run into problems with the dynamic
reality of living things.  At any given point in time, some groups of
organisms will be sharply distinguished from other groups and easily
recognized.  Others at various stages of differentiation may blend into
each other, or have fewer obvious features, or more variability.  Yet we
want to be able to discuss all of them, as did Linnaeus.

Hypotheses for species definition are sometimes testable, if they are of
the "this group of organisms shows a set of features markedly different
from other organisms" genre.  More samples will reveal if the features in
question blend in with other groups or not.  But what level of difference
counts as enough is an assumption, not testable.  We can test "Does this
difference reflect some limit to interbreeding" in many cases but not "How
much of a limit to interbreeding should we recognize with a species name?"

Dr. David Campbell
Assistant Professor, Geology
Department of Natural Sciences
Gardner-Webb University
Boiling Springs NC 28017

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