Taxa hold little information about organisms: Some inferential problems in biological systematics
The taxa that appear in biological classifications are commonly seen as representing information about the traits of their member organisms. This paper examines in what way taxa feature in the storage and retrieval of such information. I will argue that taxa do not actually store much information about the traits of their member organisms. Rather, I want to suggest, taxa should be understood as functioning to localize organisms in the genealogical network of life on Earth. Taxa store information about where organisms are localized in the network, which is important background information when it comes to establishing knowledge about organismal traits, but it is not itself information about these traits. The view of species and higher taxa that is proposed here follows from examining three problems that occur in contemporary biological systematics and are discussed here: the problem of generalization over taxa, the problem of phylogenetic inference, and the problematic nature of the Tree of Life.
KeywordsInference Phylogenetic inference Species Systematic biology Tree of Life
I am indebted to two anonymous reviewers and to the guest editors of this special issue for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.
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