Translator Disclaimer
1 January 2003 The Linnaean System and Its 250-Year Persistence
Author Affiliations +
Abstract
The Linnaean system of nomenclature has been used and adapted by biologists over a period of almost 250 years. Under the current system of codes, it is now applied to more than 2 million species of organisms. Inherent in the Linnaean system is the indication of hierarchical relationships. The Linnaean system has been justified primarily on the basis of stability. Stability can be assessed on at least two grounds: the absolute stability of names, irrespective of taxonomic concept; and the stability of names under changing concepts. Recent arguments have invoked conformity to phylogenetic methods as the primary basis for choice of nomenclatural systems, but even here stability of names as they relate to monophyletic groups is stated as the ultimate objective. The idea of absolute stability as the primary justification for nomenclatural methods was wrong from the start. The reasons are several. First, taxa are concepts, no matter the frequency of assertions to the contrary; as such, they are subject to change at all levels and always will be, with the consequence that to some degree the names we use to refer to them will also be subject to change. Second, even if the true nature of all taxa could be agreed upon, the goal would require that we discover them all and correctly recognize them for what they are. Much of biology is far from that goal at the species level and even further for supraspecific taxa. Nomenclature serves as a tool for biology. Absolute stability of taxonomic concepts—and nomenclature—would hinder scientific progress rather than promote it. It can been demonstrated that the scientific goals of systematists are far from achieved. Thus, the goal of absolute nomenclatural stability is illusory and misguided. The primary strength of the Linnaean system is its ability to portray hierarchical relationships; stability is secondary. No single system of nomenclature can ever possess all desirable attributes: i.e., convey information on hierarchical relationships, provide absolute stability in the names portraying those relationships, and provide simplicity and continuity in communicating the identities of the taxa and their relationships. Aside from myriad practical problems involved in its implementation, it must be concluded that “phylogenetic nomenclature” would not provide a more stable and effective system for communicating information on biological classifications than does the Linnaean system.
and Randall T. Schuh "The Linnaean System and Its 250-Year Persistence," The Botanical Review 69(1), (1 January 2003). https://doi.org/10.1663/0006-8101(2003)069[0059:TLSAIY]2.0.CO;2
JOURNAL ARTICLE
20 PAGES

This article is only available to subscribers.
It is not available for individual sale.
+ SAVE TO MY LIBRARY

SHARE
ARTICLE IMPACT
RIGHTS & PERMISSIONS
Get copyright permission
Back to Top