, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 491-494
Date: 30 Sep 2010

How Systematics Became “Phylogenetic”

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Gareth Nelson, my former colleague at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), taught me the rudiments of the new-fangled “phylogenetic systematics” on a few paper napkins in a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C., sometime during the summer of 1970. We were in Washington to attend the Smithsonian’s “Summer Institute in Systematics.” Gary, along with his Ichthyology Departmental Chair, Donn Rosen, had been busy introducing their AMNH colleagues to the ideas of German entomologist Willi Hennig on the protocols of conducting strictly genealogical reconstructions of the relationships among species—and reflecting those results precisely in Linnaean classifications.

I had been putting off grappling with what seemed to most of us at the time as a challenging new set of ideas—promising myself that I would turn to Hennig and his ideas once I had completed my doctoral dissertation. By the summer of 1970, the time had come as Nelson sketched out and explained the first cladograms that I had eve