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Friday, November 14, 2008

Classification discussion - public opinion and phylocode

Subject: Re: BRYONET: Classification discussion
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2008 09:23:29 -0800
From: Paul Wilson <>


Thank you for your contribution Ken. I agree with the theme of your
last paragraph, but if my understanding is correct the phylocode and
a separate rank-free classification would give relief to the
friction, not exacerbate it. I disagree with the implication that
embracing the phylocode would somehow undermine public policy, such
things as the Endangered Species Act, and the understanding of
evolution by the public (at least those with an open mind, like kids
visiting museums).

1. The problem (that our current taxa are not meant to be
monophyletic and often are not) already exists, and the phylocode +
developing a good rank-free classification would not CAUSE the
problem; it would partially alleviate a problem that already exists.
You can't get rid of the problem by ignoring it. It is undesirable
and totally impractical to deny the developments of phylogenetics
over the past few decades.

2. The phylocode doesn't outlaw the current codes. They would co-
exist. Species and other ranked taxa would continue. People would
still describe new species. Species could still be protected. All
that would change is that specimens in those species would also be
referable to a hierarchy of named phylotaxa.

3. There's the Phylocode and the phylocode. Currently, the Phylocode
is only in review above the level of genus, thus doesn't even (yet)
apply to anything remotely close to the species level. People are
going to name clades and they should name clades. What the phylocode
does is lay out some rules for naming the clades and designating what
those names shall mean to subsequent authors. Without a code, we're
living in a land without laws.

Looking far into the future, after the phylocode applies to every
level, and a great many phylotaxa have been described appropriately,
then traditional paraphyletic taxa like Reptiles, Fish, Bryophytes,
and (I presume) Syntrichia ruralis will be highlighted by how they do
NOT fit into the phyloclassification, they will be highlighted as
macroevolutionary formations that are stable and interesting and all
the more so because their names remain in usage despite having given
rise to phylotaxa that have left them behind. Those of you who are
concerned with not destroying the traditional classification should
be the biggest proponents of the Phylocode. Until we have a
phylocode, systematists will continue to wreck havoc on traditional
usages of names to try to make them correspond to clades that they
want names for. Or so I reason.


Paul Wilson, Professor
Department of Biology
California State University
Northridge, CA 91330-8303
818-677-2937 FAX: 818-677-2034
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