Message 2004-10-0175: RE: Mention of the Phylocode

Fri, 15 Oct 2004 13:04:16 -0700

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Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2004 13:04:16 -0700
From: [unknown]
To: 'PML' <>
Subject: RE: Mention of the Phylocode

Interesting how the authors conflated the PhyloCode with the issue of
uninominal/binomial species names.

Still, this article leads me to wonder if it isn't, finally, the call=
reform the ICZN. I was struck by a comment in the 1999 Code which sta=
ted the
recognition of the need to revise the Code in the near future to inco=
the concept of monophyly (I don't remember the exact quote, and I do =
have a copy of the Code on hand). Unless the general biological commu=
sees the PhyloCode as a SUPERIOR option, I predict this will be the w=
ay the
field will go, and the PhyloCode will either die through lack of use,=
 or it
will cause a fragmentation in communication. One can already see the
fragmentation beginning, with the continued adherence to the conventi=
on of
attaching well known names that have evolved over the years to incorp=
newly discovered plesiomorphic fossil taxa to the crown.=20

During our brief debate in Paris, Michel Laurin pointed out that Tetr=
was initially coined in the early 1800s to include only extant forms,=
took this to demonstrate that the historical meaning of the name is
ambiguous. Point taken, but of course fossil tetrapods were not disco=
and recognized as such until the end of that century, and were easily
incorporated into the concept of the taxon (e.g. Goodrich, 1930) and =
working biologists now consider Tetrapoda effectively an apomorphy ba=
group (see my survey of biologist's opinions in Laurin and Anderson, =
Still, the vast majority at the Paris meeting thought that attaching
Tetrapoda to the crown made the most sense, and delegated the
apomorphy-based clade Holotetrapoda. I acquiesced, but still I wonder=
this is superior to the alternative option, where Tetrapoda maintains=
widely understood meaning and the crown clade receives the name Neote=
or Coronotetrapoda? They are logically equivalent, so why fight preva=
opinion when it is *unnecessary* to do so to convert this name? Phil =
pointed out that use of the vernacular "tetrapod" can continue to ref=
er to
limbed vertebrates as workers wish with no problem in the former opti=
on, so
why is this a problem in the latter (in fact, I would think it LESS a
problem in the latter situation)? Doing so would easily accommodate t=
potential "false statements" Michel found in his literature survey (L=
and Anderson, 2004) since, with only a few exceptions, biologists rep=
on modern tetrapods in the literature spoke of "tetrapods" and not
"Tetrapoda". What would be gained by adopting the latter option is
continuity with the literature, avoiding fragmenting taxonomy and
nomenclature, and avoiding alienating workers on the fence by radical=
changing the meaning of the name. And this doesn't begin to address t=
resistance that would be generated by adopting a Pan- rule (let alone=
uninominal species issue). I am seriously interested in hearing the g=
opinion on this and am not just grinding my favourite axe--in fact I =
working with Michel on parts of the companion volume following the gr=
decision--but I regret not having asked the group this question at th=
e time.

This section of the paper David Cannatella sent really stuck out in m=
y mind:
"Unitary taxonomy, DNA taxonomy and the PhyloCode proposals all argue=
the existing rules of nomenclature are inadequate. These codes derive=
centuries of debate. For all their weaknesses, they are impressive
achievements that can be adapted to reflect new needs. Reforms to
nomenclature are continually needed, but the success and universality=
 of our
current system requires reformers to act with sensitivity and only wi=
broad consensus, to avoid fragmenting existing knowledge into multipl=
incompatable systems." With respect to my pet example Tetrapoda, ther=
e exist
two consensuses: the PhyloCode advisory group (and most, but not all,=
 of the
participants at the Paris meeting), who feel that it is best defined =
as a
crown clade, and the rest of the biological community, who feel that =
means "limbed vertebrates". Does the convention of attaching well-kno=
names to crown clades in all cases really bestow such advantages that=
rest of the biological community will readily see the advantages and =
this new system? (Heck, *I* am not convinced of this, and I am predis=
favourably to the PhyloCode.) Or will they react as these authors sug=
leaving PhyloCode supporters relatively isolated? We ignore our colle=
at our own peril; I really do not think we have the critical numbers =
our graduate students will multiply and spread the PhyloCode througho=
biology in future generations, as has been suggested by some. This ce=
will not happen if the ICZN moves to adopt the most important aspects=
 of the
PhyloCode, thus undermining our strongest arguments for a new Code.

I'm a realist. The most stunningly obvious, simple systems mean nothi=
unless they are used. I am also a former political and environmental
activist, and I understand how one goes about making social change (w=
is, like it or not, what we are trying to do). Change is effected whe=
small, radical groups (say Greenpeace) go to extreme lengths to drag =
opinion to fairly extreme views. More moderate groups (say Sierra Clu=
Nature Conservancy) then can offer their opinions, which seem less
threatening to the public given the contrast with the radical, yet th=
e net
effect is to take society a few steps towards the more radical positi=
Wash, rinse, repeat. As the formerly radical ideas become closer to t=
mainstream, new, more radical groups come to the fore (the Humane Soc=
begets PETA which begets ALF). The net result is that now one can dis=
saving the whales or your new vegetarian diet in public without bysta=
thinking you are a hippie nutcase. In this context, my fear is that t=
PhyloCode is in the long run playing the role of radical extremist in=
slower process of reforming the ICZN and other rank-based codes to a =
view of taxa as clades. This outcome will be hastened, I fear, if we =
in forcing extreme changes in taxonomic concepts that are unpalatable=
 to the
biological community at large.

On rereading this post a few times, it appears alarmist and overly ne=
I do take the TREE article as a bit of a wake-up call, and it speaks =
to my
deepest concerns about the future viability of the PhyloCode, which m=
colour what I have written. I do think these are issues important eno=
ugh to
discuss as a group. If nothing else, it might settle a few outstandin=
problems in my mind.

Jason S. Anderson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Anatomy
College of Veterinary Medicine
Western University of Health Sciences
309 E. Second St.
Pomona, CA 91766
909-469-5537  FAX 909-469-5635

> -----Original Message-----
> From: David Marjanovic []
> Sent: Friday, October 15, 2004 3:33 AM
> To: PML
> Subject: Re: Mention of the Phylocode
> Thank you very much!
> Interesting how this paper portrays the PhyloCode as history. It se=
ems to
> me
> we still have a _*LOT*_ of explaining to do.


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