Biological Theory

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 383–394 | Cite as

Structuralism in Phylogenetic Systematics

  • Richard H. ZanderEmail author


Systematics based solely on structuralist principles is non-science because it is derived from first principles that are inconsistent in dealing with both synchronic and diachronic aspects of evolution, and its evolutionary models involve hidden causes, and unnameable and unobservable entities. Structuralist phylogenetics emulates axiomatic mathematics through emphasis on deduction, and “hypotheses” and “mapped trait changes” that are actually lemmas and theorems. Sister-group-only evolutionary trees have no caulistic element of scientific realism. This results in a degenerate systematics based on patterns of fact or evidence being treated as so fundamental that all other data may be mapped to the cladogram, resulting in an apparently well-supported classification that is devoid of evolutionary theory. Structuralism in systematics is based on a non-ultrametric analysis of sister-group informative data that cannot detect or model a named taxon giving rise to a named taxon, resulting in classifications that do not reflect macroevolutionary changes unless they are sister lineages. Conservation efforts are negatively affected through epistemological extinction of scientific names. Evolutionary systematics is a viable alternative, involving both deduction and induction, hypothesis and theory, developing trees with both synchronic and diachronic dimensions often inferring nameable ancestral taxa, and resulting in classifications that advance evolutionary theory and explanations for particular groups.


classification conservation empiricism evolution phylogenetics structuralism 


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© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Missouri Botanical GardenSt. LouisUSA

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