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Taxonomic Concepts

Introduction - Same name different taxon - Taxon concepts

A single species may be defined several ways

Biological names represent concepts and the definition of these concepts are subject to opinion. Different experts may disagree as to what defines a particular species. The result is that the same name may refer to distinct taxonomic concepts. The table below illustrates a hypothetical case where four experts examine three plant specimens originally labelled with three distinct names. Each expert applies their experience and concept definitions to assert how the specimens are related. The result can be distinct and this has implications within information retrieval.

Challenges within information retrieval can arise when, for example, a user query refers to Aus dux. The expected results returned will depend upon the particular definition one uses. All three specimens match the Expert C definition of Aus dux, while proponents of the other concepts would maintain that the two other specimens are distinct (but different respectively) and should not match the query.

Expert A asserts
3 distinct species

Aus bus

Aus cus

Aus dux
Expert B asserts 2 species. Based on nomenclatural rules, Aus cus becomes invalid and a synonym of Aus bus. Aus dux is a distinct species.

Aus bus
Aus cus


Aus dux
Expert C asserts 1 species. Aus cus and Aus bus are synonyms of Aus dux.

Aus dux
Aus bus
Aus cus

Expert D asserts 2 species. Two taxa are considered distinct, but not enough, in the opinion of the authority, to warrant full species designation. The result are two new infra-specific combination names.

Aus bus bus

Aus bus cus

Aus dux

The concept problem affects, in principle, any use of a name, particularly those data objects that are not explicitly cited within a given authors examination. One may not know the concept that was used to originally designate the name on the data object. Furthermore, different people will (as noted above) interpret the specimen differently depending upon their own taxon concepts.

Take, for example, a specimen labelled as Aus dux. The source for this designation may be the more generalized concept asserted by Expert C or it might be based on the more distinct version asserted by Expert A. Someone viewing this specimen may view the concept as asserted by Expert B.

The net result is that the name on the label may be viewed as valid by some and invalid by others.

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