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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2007 Feb;42(2):331-8. Epub 2006 Aug 11.

Constraints in naming parts of the Tree of Life.

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  • 1Section of Integrative Biology and Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, University of Texas, One University Station C0930, Austin, TX 78703, USA.


There are now overlapping codes of nomenclature that govern some of the same names of biological taxa. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) uses the non-evolutionary concept of a "type species" to fix the names of animal taxa to particular ranks in the nomenclatural hierarchy. The PhyloCode, in contrast, uses phylogenetic definitions for supraspecific taxa at any hierarchical level within the Tree of Life (without associating the names to particular ranks), but does not deal with the names of species. Thus, biologists who develop classifications of animals need to use both systems of nomenclature, or else operate without formal rules for the names of some taxa (either species or many monophyletic groups). In addition, the ICZN does not permit the unique naming of many taxa that are considered to be between the ranks of genus and species. Hillis and Wilcox [Hillis, D.M., Wilcox, T.P., 2005. Phylogeny of the New World true frogs (Rana). Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 34, 299-314] provided recommendations for the classification of New World true frogs that utilized the ICZN to provide names for species, and the PhyloCode to provide names for supraspecific taxa. Nonetheless, they created new taxon names that followed both sets of rules, to avoid conflicting classifications. They also recommended that established names for both species and clades be used whenever possible, to stabilize the names of both species and clades under either set of rules, and to avoid conflicting nomenclatures. Dubois [Dubois, A., 2006. Naming taxa from cladograms: a cautionary tale. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol., 42, 317-330] objected to these principles, and argued that the names provided by Hillis and Wilcox [Hillis, D.M., Wilcox, T.P., 2005. Phylogeny of the New World true frogs (Rana). Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 34, 299-314] are unavailable under the ICZN, and that the two nomenclatural systems are incompatible. Here, I argue that he is incorrect in these assertions, and present arguments for retaining the established names of New World true frogs, which are largely compatible under both sets of nomenclatural rules.

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