Field of Science

Time to update my taxonomy and YOURS

One of the strengths and problems with science is that it keeps finding out new things, and my job is to keep up. But at times it's a struggle because you have to relearn things you've KNOWN for more than 40 years. So let's say you get a book on trees and it's organized alphabetically by botanical families. No problem, mostly, to find a maple you open near the front looking for Aceraceae, but its not there. Maybe you want to find a buckeye; no problem, you've known the family name forever, but you can't find Hippocastanaceae anywhere. What kind of a book on trees is this anyway? Well, it's up to date so Acer and Aesculus are located in the Sapindaceae, the soapberry family. This may well come as a surprise but the research was published 5 years ago. Now in the old days such taxonomic rearrangements might have bordered on whimsy, and some might become popular and others forgotten, but now phylogenetic research clearly demonstrates that a broader family concept should apply and these two prominent northern temperate genera long residing in their own families should be with the other soapberries. Unfortunately for those of us who are the go-between for putting the scientific literature into the classrooms and blogs, it's nearly impossible to keep up with the changes especially in areas outside of your research expertise(s). The Phactor will try to adjust his thinking, but it's just like when meeting a former student, and impressively the free-wheeling memory access process pulls up the name - Goldschmidt, "Hey, Ms. Goldschmidt, how nice to see you." She's impressed her old professor got the name right, but she's married now to an Abercrombe. Well, no way in ever loving memory enhancers will she ever get reclassified. Constantly having to update all those connections becomes a real problem. But it can be worse; a colleague used to complain to me that she couldn't start and finish a project on any legume genera without having the name change.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

The only good news is that since the new molecular-based phylogenies are a little more reliable, maybe the latest rounds of reclassification will stick around for a while. I hope so... I hate name changes!