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Comments on the Definition of Genera

Robert F. Inger
Evolution
Vol. 12, No. 3 (Sep., 1958), pp. 370-384
DOI: 10.2307/2405859
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2405859
Page Count: 15
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Comments on the Definition of Genera
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Abstract

Methods of delimiting genera fall into two broad categories: typological and non-typological. Typological methods fail to consider the biological significance of characters with the results that phylogeny becomes an afterthought of taxonomy and that a classification so arrived at often does not take into account the concepts of related biological fields. Non-typological methods, on the other hand, analyze characters in biological terms, that is, in terms of genetics, developmental mechanics, behavior, ecology, etc. Such an analysis is more likely to lead to an understanding of phylogeny, which must be the basis of a biological classification, than is a typological method. Because the evolution of a group of organisms is essentially a history of successive adaptations, a study of adaptation is probably the best means of ascertaining the phylogeny and, in turn, of establishing a reasonably stable classification. An attempt to delimit genera on the basis of the principal adaptive trends within a family is recommended with the expectation that the taxa so defined will be products of phylogeny and will reveal the biologically most significant differences between groups. A generic classification based on complex adaptive features has a number of advantages. Firstly, each genus will represent the same kind of entity: a distinct mode of life and a distinct evolutionary shift. Secondly, genera so defined lead to predictions of habits and ecology that test taxonomic conclusions. Thirdly, the value of the genus as a synthetic category indicating species interrelationship is maximized.

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