J Syst Evol ›› 2005, Vol. 43 ›› Issue (5): 403-419.

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Paraphyletic group, PhyloCode and phylogenetic species—the current debate and a preliminary commentary

TANG Yan-Cheng, LU An-Ming   

  1. (Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China)
  • Published:2005-09-18

Abstract: In this essay, three currently hotly debated issues in biological systematics, i.e., the paraphyletic group, the PhyloCode, and the phylogenetic species concept, have been briefly reviewed. (1) It is widely acknowledged that cladistics has made some positive contributions to the study of systematics. In particular, the employment of outgroup analysis for assessing character polarities, the application of synapomorphies to the inference of relationships between taxa, and the use of cladistic methods for reconstructing phylogeny, have all greatly facilitated the improvement of systematic approaches. A fatal flaw in cladistics is its refusal to accept paraphyletic groups. Frankly, we are adherents and practitioners of phyletics, and hence consider paraphyletic groups to be acceptable. For example, an AFLP analysis has shown that Zabelia (Caprifoliaceae) can be included in Abelia, but the members in Zabelia differ from those in Abelia not only in pollen morphology, but also in having persistent petioles dilated and connate at base, thus enclosing axillary buds, characters of adaptive significance obtained possibly when Zabelia members entered a new ecological niche, so we consider that they are better treated as two independent genera, though indeed such a treatment makes Abelia paraphyletic. (2) Some cladists pointed out that as the tool for communication and the system for information storage and retrieval, biological nomenclature is required to be unambiguous, unique and stable. They criticise the Linnaean rank-based system of nomenclature for failing to satisfy such requirements for the naming of clades and species. To address this problem, the PhyloCode is proposed in recent years, in which three definitions for clade naming are given, i.e., the node-based, the stem-based, and the apomorphy-based. We are of the opinion that since the Linnaean binominal system of botanical nomenclature has existed for nearly 250 years, the rejection of this system and the adoption of the PhyloCode would create a state of chaos in botanical nomenclature. This does not mean that there exist no merits in the proposals made by the PhyloCode supporters. We suggest that further studies should be conducted for its practical application. (3) It has been well known that there are many problems with the application of the biological species concept in plants, and thus at the present time the majority of plant systematists actually seldom use this concept in their practical work. The rapid development of cladistic approach has motivated the proposal of the phylogenetic species concept. This species concept is established based on three criteria, i.e., the autamorphy, the diagnosability and the basal exclusivity, hence the autamorphy species concept, the diagnosability species concept, and the genealogical concept are created respectively. Nevertheless, the morpho-geographical species concept is still predominantly adopted in plant systematics. When using this species concept, however, we should also take into account the data from other sources, particularly those from pollination biology, breeding system and molecular systematics.

Key words: paraphyletic group, PhyloCode, phylogenetic species concept.