Nomenclature codes

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Nomenclature codes or codes of nomenclature are the various rulebooks that govern biological taxonomic nomenclature, each in their own broad field of organisms. To an end-user who only deals with names of species, with some awareness that species are assignable to families, it may not be noticeable that there is more than one code, but beyond this basic level these are rather different in the way they work.

The successful introduction of two-part names for species by Linnaeus was the start for an ever-expanding system of nomenclature. With all naturalists worldwide adopting this approach to thinking up names there arose several schools of thought about the details. It became ever more apparent that a detailed body of rules was necessary to govern scientific names. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards there were several initiatives to arrive at worldwide-accepted sets of rules. Presently nomenclature codes govern the naming of:

Differences between codes

Starting point

The starting point, that is the time from which these codes are in effect (usually retroactively), varies from group to group, and sometimes from rank to rank. In botany and mycology the starting point is often 1753, in zoology 1758. On the other hand, bacteriology started anew, making a clean sweep in 1980, although maintaining the original authors and dates of publication.


There are also differences in the way codes work. For example, the ICN (the code for algae, fungi and plants) forbids tautonyms, while the ICZN, (the animal code) allows them.


These codes differ in terminology, and there is a long-term project to "harmonize" this. For instance, the ICN uses "valid" in "valid publication of a name" (= the act of publishing a formal name), with "establishing a name" as the ICZN equivalent. The ICZN uses "valid" in "valid name" (= "correct name"), with "correct name" as the ICN equivalent. Harmonization is making very limited progress.


There are differences in respect of what kinds of types are used. The bacteriological code prefers living type cultures, but allows other kinds. There has been ongoing debate regarding which kind of type is more useful in a case like cyanobacteria.[1]

Other codes

A more radical approach was to replace all existing codes with a new BioCode, basically a synthesis of the existing Codes.[2][3] The originally planned implementation date for the BioCode draft was January 1, 2000, but agreement was not reached.

A revised BioCode that, instead of replacing the existing codes, would provide a unified context for them, was proposed in 2011.[4][5][6] The International Botanical Congress of 2011 declined to consider the BioCode proposal.

Another code in development is the PhyloCode, which would regulate phylogenetic nomenclature rather than Linnaean nomenclature (that is, it requires phylogenetic definitions for every name, and does not contain mandatory ranks). The accompanying volume (meant to serve the code as Systema naturae functions relative to the Zoological code) is however still on the draft stage, and it is uncertain when, or even if, the code will see any form of implementation.

Ambiregnal protists

Some protists, sometimes called ambiregnal protists, have been considered to be both protozoa and algae, or protozoa and fungi, and names for these have been published under either or both of the ICZN and the ICN.[7][8] These unnecessary duplications introduced a double language throughout protist classification schemes that resulted in confusion.[9][10]

Groups claimed by protozoologists and phycologists include euglenids, dinoflagellates, cryptomonads, haptophytes, glaucophytes, many heterokonts (e.g., chrysophytes, raphidophytes, silicoflagellates, some xanthophytes, proteromonads), some monadoid green algae (volvocaleans and prasinophytes), choanoflagellates, bicosoecids, ebriids and chlorarachniophytes.

Slime molds, plasmodial forms and other "fungus-like" organisms claimed by protozoologists and mycologists include mycetozoans, plasmodiophorids, acrasids, labyrinthulomycetess and chytrids.

Other problematic groups are the Cyanobacteria and Microsporidia.

Unregulated taxa

The zoological code doesn't regulate names of taxa lower than subspecies or higher than superfamily. There are many attempts to introduce some order on the nomenclature of these taxa,[11][12] including the use of typified nomenclature, of the PhyloCode, or also of circumscriptional nomenclature.[13][14]

The botanical code is applied primarily to the ranks of family and below. There are some rules for names above the rank of family, but the principle of priority does not apply to them, and the principle of typification is optional. These names may be either automatically typified names or be descriptive names.[15] In some circumstances, a taxon has two possible names (e.g., Chrysophyceae Pascher, 1914, nom. descrip.; Hibberd, 1976, nom. typificatum). Descriptive names are problematic, once that, if a taxon is split, it is not obvious which new group takes the existing name. Meanwhile, with typified names, the existing name is taken by the new group that still bears the type of this name. However, typified names presents special problems for microrganisms.[16]

See also


  1. Ahoren Oren (2004). "A proposal for further integration of the cyanobacteria under the Bacteriological Code". Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 54: 1895–1902. PMID 15388760. doi:10.1099/ijs.0.03008-0. 
  2. "Draft BioCode". 1997. 
  3. John McNeill (1996-11-04). "The BioCode: Integrated biological Nomenclature for the 21st Century?". Proceedings of a Mini-Symposium on Biological Nomenclature in the 21st Century. 
  4. "The Draft BioCode (2011)". International Committee on Bionomenclature (ICB). 
  5. [1] Greuter, W.; Garrity, G.; Hawksworth, D.L.; Jahn, R.; Kirk, P.M.; Knapp, S.; McNeill, J.; Michel, E.; Patterson, D.J.; Pyle, R.; Tindall, B.J. (2011). Draft BioCode (2011): Principles and rules regulating the naming of organisms. Taxon. 60: 201-212.
  6. [2] and [3] Hawksworth, D.L. (2011). Introducing the Draft BioCode (2011). Taxon. 60(1): 199–200.
  7. Corliss, J O (1995). "The ambiregnal protists and the codes of nomenclature: a brief review of the problem and of proposed solutions". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 52: 11–17. 
  8. McNeill, J.; Barrie, F.R.; Buck, W.R.; Demoulin, V.; Greuter, W.; Hawksworth, D.L.; Herendeen, P.S.; Knapp, S.; Marhold, K.; Prado, J.; Prud'homme Van Reine, W.F.; Smith, G.F.; Wiersema, J.H.; Turland, N.J. (2012). International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (Melbourne Code) adopted by the Eighteenth International Botanical Congress Melbourne, Australia, July 2011. Regnum Vegetabile 154. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag KG. ISBN 978-3-87429-425-6.  Preamble: 8
  9. Adl, S. M. et al. Diversity, Nomenclature, and Taxonomy of Protists. Systematic Biology, p. 684-689, 2007, [4].
  10. Lahr, Daniel JG, Enrique Lara, and Edward AD Mitchell. "Time to regulate microbial eukaryote nomenclature." Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 107.3 (2012): 469-476, [5].
  11. Dubois, A. (2006). Proposed Rules for the incorporation of nomina of higher-ranked zoological taxa in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. 2. The proposed Rules and their rationale. Zoosystema, 28 (1): 165‒258, [6].
  12. Frost, D. R. et al. (2006). The Amphibian Tree of Life. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 297: 1–291, [7],
  13. Klüge, N. J. (2010). Circumscriptional names of higher taxa in Hexapoda. Bionomina, 1, 15-55, [8].
  14. Kluge N. J. (1999). A system of alternative nomenclatures of supra-species taxa. Linnaean and post-Linnaean principles of systematics. Entomological Review 79(2): 133-147
  15. "International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants". 2012.  Article 16
  16. Lahr et al. (2012).

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