Name Stability

Kondla, Norbert FOR:EX Norbert.Kondla at
Thu Sep 21 14:45:06 EDT 2000

The curious will continue to poke and prod into the state of affairs whether
there is or is not any stability or instability.  It is certainly odd that
some folks are suggesting names not convey any information.  That would seem
to defeat the purpose of having a name.  I ascribe to the observation that "
If you do not know the name, your knowledge of the thing perishes".
Certainly I value and prefer the traditional ranks - even tho I may strongly
disagree with some published rank assignments, eg. the notorious genus
Loranthomitoura , with 2 or 3 constituent species, based on the arrangement
of hairs on the caterpillar and specious host plant affiliation. I can buy
this as a natural group but have difficulty ingesting it as a subgenus,
never mind a full genus rank.  Seems that some people feel that all 'natural
groups' (however one defines them) need to have a rank name of some kind
associated with it.  Much of the concern and confusion about 'right' names
among non-specialists seems to be the tinkering with obligate categories at
the genus and species level.  There are some long standing butterfly species
interpretations on this continent that are based on pure assumption and the
genitalic species concept.  I see no purpose in dignifying such taxonomic
opinions with any kind of taxonomic stability that codifies our present
level of ignorance.  The future, yes hopefully there will be better data,
more logical interpretations, and probably a better level of consensus - but
even then; I cannot beleive that the lumping and splitting debate will ever
go away.

-----Original Message-----
From: Niklas Wahlberg [mailto:niklas.wahlberg at]
Sent: Thursday, September 21, 2000 11:00 AM
To: 'lepsl'
Subject: Re: Name Stability

"Kondla, Norbert FOR:EX" wrote:
> As much as I enjoy the intellectual and technical debates about the
> evolutionary relationships between organisms and the conventions that we
> chose to use for applying names; there is an irreverent but perhaps
> realistic perspective to share on this topic:
> - names of organisms will become stable when pigs fly -- but I hasten to
> that with the advent of genetic engineering this could happen sooner
> than later and besides, who is to say that such an event could not
> eventually evolve without human design
> - names of organisms will become stable when a supreme being/omnipotent
> deity forces us to accept her/his/its view of the right name and right
> phylogeny

Well, I wouldn't be so pessimistic. In my view names should represent
monophyletic entities (i.e. all taxons within a given group should have
a common ancestor). There is no need for a somebody to force us to
accept one phylogeny. The plant people are way ahead of the rest of us
in this respect, there are lots of people looking at the same problem.
If they all come up with the same answer independently, then we have
something stable. Once we have a stable phylogeny, it is "easy" to agree
on how to place names on the different monophyletic groups apparent on
that phylogeny. 
    Some people do not want the names we give to the different groups to
convey any information, but for me the ranks class, order, family,
genus, and everything in between certainly do convey information about
the relationships of species I know nothing about. I don't want a "clade
address", which would mean I would have to dig up the article originally
describing that clade to understand what it means. I prefer to talk
about Papilionidae, Elachistidae or Asteraceae and Proteaceae for that
    My main point is that at the moment we are going through a taxonomic
revolution, in the sense that we are discovering the relationships of
different species (groups). Once this is done (it won't happen
overnight), we will (I believe) reach a stable taxonomy. 10 million
species? It's possible, though it'll take a hell of a lot of work. I'm
happy to be doing it in my own small way (and certainly not making money
out of it)! And having a stable taxonomy wouldn't stop the curious. Just
think of all the possibilities if we knew the relationships of all


   Niklas Wahlberg                          
   Metapopulation Research Group
   Department of Ecology and Systematics    
   Division of Population Biology           
   PO Box 17 (Arkadiankatu 7)               
   00014 University of Helsinki
   p. +358-9-191 28778, fax +358-9-191 28701

 Check out our web-site:             

More information about the Leps-l mailing list