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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2004 Apr 29;359(1444):699-710.

Unitary or unified taxonomy?

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Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK.


Taxonomic data form a substantial, but scattered, resource. The alternative to such a fragmented system is a 'unitary' one of preferred, consensual classifications. For effective access and distribution the (Web) revision for a given taxon would be established at a single Internet site. Although all the international codes of nomenclature currently preclude the Internet as a valid medium of publication, elements of unitary taxonomy (UT) still exist in the paper system. Much taxonomy, unitary or not, already resides on the Web. Arguments for and against adopting a unitary approach are considered and a resolution is attempted. Rendering taxonomy essentially Web-based is as inevitable as it is desirable. Apparently antithetical to the UT proposal is the view that in reality multiple classifications of the same taxon exist, since different taxonomists often hold different concepts of their taxa: a single name may apply to many different (frequently overlapping) circumscriptions and more than one name to a single taxon. However, novel means are being developed on single Internet sites to retain the diversity of multiple concepts for taxa, providing hope that taxonomy may become established as a Web-based information discipline that will unify the discipline and facilitate data access.

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