Taxonomic nomenclature

describes and names organisms, classifies biological diversity


scientific name: Genus (capitalized)+ specific ephithet (lower case), followed by author(s) and year described

e.g., Mus musculus Linnaeus, 1758

Higher levels of classification are not italicized

Taxonomic nomenclature: common variations

Author and especially year often not included

Mus musculus

Be careful, because sometimes two different people give same name to different taxa

Principle of priority: earlier name is valid, later one (in this case called a junior homonym) has to be replaced

Echidna Forster 1777 vs. Echidna Cuvier 1797

Taxonomic nomenclature: common variations

If species has been transferred to a new genus, authority will be in parentheses

e.g., Portunus pelagicus (Linnaeus, 1758)

original name was Cancer pelagicus Linnaeus, 1758

Taxonomic nomenclature: common variations

Multiple names for the same species are known as subjective synonyms

different people describe the same species, giving it different names

note requirement of a third action (i.e., someone deciding these names refer to the same species)

senior synonyms vs. junior synonyms: priority rules here too

Ampelaster carolinianus (Walter) G.L. Nesom 1995

Aster carolinianus Walter 1788

Lasallea caroliniana (Walter) Semple & L. Brouillet 1980

Virgulus carolinianus (Walter) Reveal & Keener 1981

Taxonomic nomenclature: common variations

sometimes subgenera and subspecies (or varieties) also included

e.g., Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine: Pinus (Ducampopinus) aristata

e.g., Southeast Asian House Mouse: Mus musculus castaneus

pay attention to these, as sometimes subgenus becomes genus, or subspecies becomes species (and vice versa!)

Taxonomic nomenclature: common variations

Botanists do things a little differently

often abbreviate names of frequently used authors, and often use initials of first and even middle names

when a species is moved to a different genus, a plant name will include both the original author in parentheses and the author who moved it to a new genus

Landoltia punctata (G. Mey.) Les & D.J.Crawford was originally named Spirodela punctata by G. Meyer

Taxonomic nomenclature: common variations

Fossil taxa normally indicated with a special symbol in front of name, usually a cross

e.g., Tyrannosaurus rex

CAUTION: people are often inconsistent about labelling fossil taxa

Potential complications

Names of species sometimes change over time as we learn more about them

Geochelone gigantea (Seychelles Giant Tortoise) now Dipsochelys dussumieri

Moving species from one genus to another may change ending of its specific epithet

Lasallea caroliniana to Virgulus carolinianus

Simple typos in either the original list or other resources

Changes or continuing disagreements about higher classification

be prepared to look at more than one reference!

Wikipedia, zipcodezoo, GBIF, Paleontology Database,etc.

Potential complications II

Zoology vs. Botany

Botanists sometimes use "Division" instead of "Phylum"

Within each kingdom, each name can only be used to refer to a single taxon, but the same name can be used in different kingdoms!

e.g., do you recognize this Cannabis species?

Cannabis Linneaus, 1753 vs. Cannabis Blyth, 1850

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