From: Curtis Clark (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun Mar 20 2005 - 16:04:25 CST
on 2005-03-20 13:18 Doug Ewell wrote:
> Ahmad Gharbeia <gharbeia at gmail dot com> wrote:
>>Even names of species are changed when necessary.
> I thought I had read that this was not so, that incorrect or misleading
> names of species had to be left intact for stability, but could be
Since this comes up occasionally, I want to clarify some of the issues.
The comparisons are interesting, and the people who deal with names of
organisms face some of the same problems that Unicode faces.
1. In order to even be considered, a name of a species must be "validly
published": the name must be proposed according to a set of specific
rules. There is no governing body that determines a priori which species
names meet the criteria, but it can be determined a posteriori, usually
2. Competing names for the same species are governed by the principle of
priority: the first validly published name is used. This can cause
problems when old names are rediscovered for organisms already well-know
by a different scientific name. The bacteriologists have solved that
issue by coming up with a list of names in common use, that have
automatic priority over as-yet-unrediscovered older names. Zoologists
and botanists are still considering such systems.
3. There are provisions for conserving, on a case-by-case basis,
commonly-used names and rejecting otherwise unknown names that are older.
4. There are two common ways that names can change:
A. Change in circumscription. If a biologist decides that two species
are really the same (there aren't significant biological differences to
recognize them as separate species), the combined species ordinarily
takes the oldest name from among the names of the combined species. That
is why the California poppy is called Eschscholzia californica rather
than Eschscholzia crocea, even though most of the cultivated forms would
have been classified as the latter back when botanists thought they were
B. Change in classification. Often a species will be assigned to a
different genus, based perhaps on new biological knowledge, so that
purple needlegrass, for example, could change its name from Stipa
pulchra to Nasella pulchra, as a result of the old genus Stipa being
taken apart, with a few species left in it and the rest put in other genera.
The rules of nomenclature are at the same time very precise, yet subject
to interpretation in each individual case.
There is an interesting web site at
http://home.earthlink.net/~misaak/taxonomy.html that deals with some of
the bizarre and humorous in nomenclature.
-- Curtis Clark http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/ Web Coordinator, Cal Poly Pomona +1 909 979 6371 Professor, Biological Sciences +1 909 869 4062
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