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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Correspondence

Nomenclature and placental mammal phylogeny

Robert J Asher1* and Kristofer M Helgen2

Author Affiliations

1 Museum of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing St, CB2 3EJ UK

2 National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, MRC 108 Washington, DC 20013-7012 USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:102  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-102

Published: 20 April 2010


An issue arising from recent progress in establishing the placental mammal Tree of Life concerns the nomenclature of high-level clades. Fortunately, there are now several well-supported clades among extant mammals that require unambiguous, stable names. Although the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature does not apply above the Linnean rank of family, and while consensus on the adoption of competing systems of nomenclature does not yet exist, there is a clear, historical basis upon which to arbitrate among competing names for high-level mammalian clades. Here, we recommend application of the principles of priority and stability, as laid down by G.G. Simpson in 1945, to discriminate among proposed names for high-level taxa. We apply these principles to specific cases among placental mammals with broad relevance for taxonomy, and close with particular emphasis on the Afrotherian family Tenrecidae. We conclude that no matter how reconstructions of the Tree of Life change in years to come, systematists should apply new names reluctantly, deferring to those already published and maximizing consistency with existing nomenclature.