Alternatives to Linnaean Classification

Many systematists and taxonomists have doubted that the Linnaean system and the formal Codes of Nomenclatures are capable of handling the numbers of organisms and groups of organisms that continue to be discovered. For example, Willi Hennig, the German entomologist who founded the dominant systematic paradigm Phylogenetic Systematics, suggested several alternatives, such as providing separate classifications for each geologic time period, or using a numerical prefix system as a substitute for Linnaean categories such as class and family. Others have advocated "rank-less" classifications in which subordination is expressed simply by indenting, while still others have suggested that numerical codes be used. These doubts spring from a single principal source. Pure Linnaean classifications require ranking to express subordination (that is, the position in the hierarchy). The more detailed the phylogenetic tree, the more rank categories are needed to express completely the relationships through the classification. However, the Linnaean hierarchy and its attendant Rules of Nomenclature have great historical inertia, and it remains to be seen if some alternative system will replace it.

See also: Classification, Biological; Systematics Bibliography

Many standard texts contain brief to extensive discussions of the various rules of nomenclature. However, details change with the adoption of each new Code, so caution is encouraged.

International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (St. Louis Code). Regnum Vegetabile 131. Königstein, Germany: Koeltz. Unofficial English version available at:; International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, 4th ed. 2000. London: Published by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature; Sneath, P. H. A., ed. 1992. International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria, 1990 Revision. Washington, D.C.: Published for the International Union of Microbiological Societies by American Society for Microbiology.

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