Comments on the proposed conservation of usage of Drosophila Fallén, 1823 (Insecta, Diptera) 2 (Case 3407)

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2008
Authors:C. F. Thompson, Evenhuis, N. L. , Pape, T. , Pont, A. C.
Journal:Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature
Start Page:140
Date Published:06/2008
Type of Article:Comment
Full Text

We oppose the application to conserve the usage of Drosophila in the sense of melanogaster Meigen. This proposal seeks the endorsement by the Commission of a particular classification and classification paradigm, whereas the preamble of the Code asserts the freedom of taxonomic thought or action. While the stated purpose is the conservation of usage, the proposal in fact seeks to establish by that a new and as yet undefined concept of Drosophila. Today Drosophila is accepted as a large genus of flies, containing a number of species of importance to genetics. The most widely known species is Drosophila melanogaster Meigen. The proposal declares that the current concept of Drosophila is ‘paraphyletic’ and thus ‘violates modern systematic practice’. That practice is cladistics or Hennigian systematics. For followers of ‘evolutionary’ systematics, (Mayr, 1942; Simpson, 1944) or phenetics (Sneath & Sokal, 1973), paraphyletic taxa are acceptable. Then there are issues of the utility of large and small taxa (i.e. lumping vs splitting). We feel strongly that the Commission should not be endorsing one classification paradigm over another.
In an identical situation, some workers (Reinert et al., 2004) have split the large genus Aedes. According to their classification, the widely used name Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus) for the yellow fever mosquito has become Stegomyia aegypti. This change has not caused major nomenclatural instability, in fact the changed combination has ensured that people can distinguish between their modern classification and the old obsolete classification. Nomenclature will inevitably change to reflect progress and improvements in classification. If we wanted true nomenclatural stability in the sense of unchanging names, then rather than calling the genus Drosophila, we would call it ‘Conops’ as Aristotle did more than 2,000 years ago. We feel that nomenclature should remain independent of taxonomy and that Sophophora melanogaster would be a fully acceptable name for the well-known vinegar fly of genetics under a new split cladistic classification.
Finally, this application assumes that the public cannot learn new words and definitions. About a decade ago, Google was a little-known noun to a very large number of people. Today everyone knows it, and also as a verb for searching online. Google will have no trouble in finding information about both Drosophila and Sophophora. We feel that the public can also learn the meaning of Sophophora melanogaster as well.
So we, the editorial team of the BioSystematic Database of World Diptera, urge our colleagues to take no action on this case. Let nomenclature remain independent from taxonomy. Let users decide what classification best serves their needs. The rest is taken care of by the existing International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

Additional references

Mayr, E. 1942. Systematics and the origin of species. xiv, 334 pp. Columbia University Press, New York.
Reinert, J.F., Harbach, R.E. & Kitching, I.J. 2004. Phylogeny and classification of Aedini (Diptera: Culicidae), based on morphological characters of all life stages. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 142: 289–368.
Simpson, G.G. 1944. Tempo and mode in evolution. 237 pp. Columbia University Press, New York.
Sneath, P.H.A. & Sokal, R.R. 1973. Numerical taxonomy — the principles and practice of numerical classification. xv, 573 pp. W.H. Freeman, San Francisco.

Taxonomic Group(s): 
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith