Taxonomy disagreements (was: Re: Albuca)

Lee Poulsen
Fri, 16 Dec 2005 14:03:44 PST
On Dec 15, 2005, at 3:36 AM, Rachel Saunders wrote:
> I once complained to [John Manning] about the
> Galaxias being lumped into Moraeas, and he said "well, continue to  
> call them
> Galaxias, you don't have to change them!" so I do.
> All that the botanists do
> by lumping them is acknowledge that they are very closely related to
> Ornithogalum, and should be in the same "box".

I know I said this almost a year ago, but I'm moved to say it again.  
It's fine and dandy that we can continue to call a species by whatever  
valid name it already had, pre-lumping. But if this keeps up ad  
infinitum, then we'll end up with a chaos of names all synonymous to  
each other, all to describe a single species. I thought one of a number  
of reasons (we're always told) for becoming familiar with and using the  
scientific name is so that everyone in any language or country can all  
know what species we're talking about. If all synonyms are okay to use,  
we might as well just use familiar names in our own language. After  
all, some familiar names are quite similar in a number of different  
languages. (I'm thinking of maybe species such as the lion?)

Since a genus name is quite useful in grouping a bunch of similar  
species together, it particularly perturbs me when genera are lumped  
together causing the loss of some particular distinctive characteristic  
that the species within each genera had with each other and not with  
the species in the other former genera. And yet it is also very useful  
knowledge to have closely related genera grouped together in some way  
that exhibits the relatedness that the new DNA methods of analysis are  
producing. So once again I would like to suggest that all these  
taxonomists should make greater use of the supergenus rank. I Googled  
it and it turns out that it has been used a number of times, for both  
animal as well as plant species (and even a bacteria or two popped up),  
for just this very reason that I've described.

One example (if I understood it correctly) is the case of ferrets and  
various polecat species. They have been found to be genetically much  
more similar to each other than to other animals in the same genus  
which includes weasels and minks, etc. The proposal is to make all of  
these belong to the same supergenus since they are all more closely  
related to each other than to wolverines or otters, but that within  
this grouping there would be 2 or 3 separate genera within which the  
species are much more closely related as a group. (So you would have  
the ferret/polecat genus, the weasel genus, etc.)

Even though this proposal is in the reverse direction of what I'm  
proposing for some of these newly lumped plant genera (i.e.,  
"splitting"), the principle is the same. I think there is a lot of  
merit, for example, to keeping all my Lachenalia species grouped as  
Lachenalias separately from all my Polyxena species as a group. But  
knowing that they belonged to the same supergenus "Xxx" would let me  
know that there is a potential for some interesting hybridizing,  
similar cultural treatment, etc. And, to me this is far preferable and  
easier to keep in my mind than creating a multitude of Sections within  
the same Genus. And..., the DNA guys would be happier, too!

On a related now, during my Googling, I found out that there is a lot  
of discussion and arguing about the same things we've discussed, but to  
a much more explicit degree. It turns out that there is a serious  
faction of taxonomists that believe we should just get rid of the  
entire Linnaean system altogether and move to a new method based  
entirely on all this new DNA analysis and comparison and cladistic  
methods that have come into being in the past couple of decades or so.  
Some of the purists in this camp even want to toss the traditional  
binomial nomenclature for each species completely.

Here are a couple of good articles about it, the first one describing  
the PhyloCode proponents and their arguments in favor of this  
completely new way of classification of life and getting rid of the  
"What's in a Name?"

The second one is an articulate and detailed argument against the  
PhyloCode and its proponents. I think it is particularly of interest to  
people like John Bryan. I found it a little difficult to follow all the  
terminology, not being a biologist, but I definitely understood the  
author's arguments. Very interesting. (I think John Bryan will like  
this one.)   ;-)
(And John, you can read the other article as an exercise in "knowing  
the enemy".)   :-)
"Stems, nodes, crown clades, and rank-free lists: is Linnaeus dead?"

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena area, California, USDA Zone 10a

More information about the pbs mailing list