The upcoming confrontation about the scientific name Acacia continues to inspire frustration, passion, and grumbling on all sides. It is rarely about the science behind it (which is pretty widely accepted), but about institutional rules, about perceived injustices, about egos, and, of course (where my interest comes in), about symbolism, sentiment, national rivalry, and geopolitics.
Here I post some email correspondence, from two key participants in the debates, to which I was party in offline conversations after my initial posting on the topic. Dick Brummitt defends his compromise proposal, despite voicing agreement with the original ‘keep Acacia for Australia’ decision. Bruce Maslin encourages anybody who is interested and affected by the decision to attend the Melbourne meeting (paying one day’s IBC registration suffices for the right to vote at the Nomenclature sessions). He obviously hopes for votes in favour of the original decision, and not having to use Racosperma as the moniker for Australia’s wattles. I also present a chart that summarizes some of the different options on the table.
Dick Brummitt is a botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (England), and was Secretary of the Committee for Spermatophyta which entertained the 2005 acacia proposal. His email, which he suggested I post, is here (I’ve cut out the initial pleasantries):
“…. Unfortunately the Acacia issue has got completely out of control and I am not prepared to participate in mindless abuse, so I shall not be coming to Melbourne. But my views on cladistics have not changed and will be presented at the Congress in my absence.”
“Of course you [Brummitt refers to the author of another email here] may opt out of the miserable Acacia mess if you wish, but I hope not everyone in Australia will do so. Despite my career-long devotion to African botany, the case for applying the name Acacia to the Australian taxa seems to me overwhelming when I consider the criteria usually applied in nomenclatural committees. If we are talking about nomenclatural stability, we can start with the number of species affected, where the hard figures are incontrovertable (1012 vs. c. 80). And then there are the international industrial importance (multibillion dollar industry), local economic importance (one nurseryman told me he sold some 340 species for landscaping, horticulture etc), ecological importance (half the African species are now referable to Senegalia and ‘Acacia woodland’ in Africa is now ambiguous), social significance, and particularly familiarity of the name to general public, etc. From the start I knew I had to put aside my personal bias, but others in the African scene did not see it that way. I have been appalled and ashamed at some of the effusions from the African side.”
“They seem to feel that they were cheated at Vienna, but that is not so. They just didn’t understand the system. The vote required to overthrow a committee decision was made perfectly clear before the vote took place, and they failed to achieve it. Later the Rapporteurs invited them in Taxon to submit a new proposal, but they refused to do so. Apparently, it seems to me, they knew they could not make anything like as good a case as Australia has. All the pro-Africa side’s arguments avoid the fundamental issues and centre on procedural and personal matters. Their increasing tendency to personal invective just emphasises how poor their arguments for an African type are.”
“However, in an attempt to reach a conclusion acceptable to the African side as well as those in Australia, I published a new proposal in the December Taxon which would allow both sides to retain the name Acacia while still maintaining separate genera. A little nomenclatural slight of hand is needed, but this has been matched by a similar proposal by the Vice-Rapporteur in the June Taxon (with my comments alongside). There is no reason why we cannot adopt my proposal. This should allow us to escape the acrimony which is so dividing the botanical world. But the reactions I have had from the African side have been negative and in some cases just pathetic personal invective. Oh well, if one has to either laugh or cry, I will try to laugh.”
“But, as I have said, I think it would be a pity if everyone in Australia just opts out. Australia has a very strong case for having one of its species as the type, and if the African side will not see sense and support the December compromise proposal, this is in danger of being reversed. The Australian side should be properly organised, as they were before the Vienna Congress when I received 250 messages in support of an Australian type. This time round I hope for the compromise position and an end to the divisive arguments.”
Bruce Maslin is author of the original proposal to keep the name Acacia for the large group of plants found largely in Australia and some nearby places. He is Senior Principle Research Scientist at the West Australian Herbarium. Edited portions of Maslin’s email response to Dick Brummitt’s message above (both of which were copied to me) are reproduced below (with his permission).
He first wrote in response to the above email first of his sadness that Dick Brummitt wouldn’t attend the IBC: “… it will a sad loss not having access in Melbourne to your gigantean knowledge of the Code, your familiarity with the Acacia issue, your sound and logical reasoning and persuasive arguments…. I can only sincerely hope that there will be enough voices of reason at Melbourne to effectively articulate the case in support of the Vienna outcome.”
“The arguments this time round with respect to Acacia are different from those in 2005 and as a result I have not been able to participate very effectively in the ‘debate’: the issues this time are legalistic/procedural (of which I have little knowledge), rather than relating to the merits or otherwise of the Orchard/Maslin proposal (that latter battle was fought and won in 2005). I have nevertheless tried my best to do things that I think might contribute to a positive outcome in Melbourne, e.g. to encourage Australian Systematic Botany Society Members to attend the Nomenclature Session where their votes will undoubtedly be valuable…. I hope that Australians turn up to the Nomenclature Session…” (Maslin’s manuscript to the ASBS Newsletter)
“I have given quite a bit of thought to the issue of the compromises that both you and Nick Turland have put forward. Initially I liked the idea of a compromise, …. however, I am now tending towards the view that it is best to let things take their natural course in accordance with established rules and processes, without invoking any special exceptions to the Code. A consequence of this attitude of course is that I must accept the outcome of the Melbourne process, even if it is an outcome that I don’t like. Nevertheless, from what little I know about how things might be played out at Melbourne I feel confident that those conducting the Nomenclature Session meeting will do their very best to ensure that things are done in a fair and open way, so one cannot really expect anything more (or less) than this.”
When I wrote to Bruce and suggested that I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Melbourne, but cannot attend for travel reasons (and don’t feel, as a non-botanist, right to go and vote anyway), he responded:
“You have as much right as anyone to be at the Nomenclature Session, perhaps more so if you are a frequent user of Acacia names! I would hope that you can encourage appropriate people to attend the Nomenclature Session meeting in order to cast a vote …. but that of course would require people to put their money where their mouth (or sentiment) is and that might be too high a price for many to pay! I can understand your liking the Brummitt proposal and while I am sympathetic towards it I feel that in practice it will be awkward to implement. Still, at the end of the day I would certainly prefer Dick’s solution to having to take up the name Racosperma!”
Finally, I should report that a second compromise proposal has appeared on the official record (the journal Taxon). This proposal, by Nicholas Turland of the Missouri Botanical Garden (pdf here) suggests that Acacia be retained only for cases where the old, inclusive genus is used, and that otherwise the genus names be changed to Protoacacia (for a number of African thorn trees, among others) and to Australacacia (for the Australian wattle group). My initial reaction is that creating additional new names is less efficient and elegant than Brummitt’s compromise that I describe in my previous blog. I cannot comment on the technical and procedural aspects.
This table (below) summarize some of the different name proposals, I hope it helps. But be careful, the debates at Melbourne IBC are not about a simple choice between these, but instead over the procedures involved in the 2005 vote and how to proceed (in a procedural sense) in 2011.
I’ll finish with a note on my own feelings on the issue. When I first began working with wattles, following Acacia dealbata back from Madagascar to Australia, I was disgusted at the discovery that I might have to call it ‘Racosperma‘. Then, the more I learned about the issue – both the science and the argy-bargy involved – my heart began to sympathize with the African side. One reason is simply linguistic. Australians generally call their Acacias by the common name ‘wattles’, not ‘acacia’ (and the French call some ‘mimosa’). Meanwhile, Acacias in Africa are often actually called ‘acacias’ or ‘thorn tree’ (and the Greek ‘akis’, or thorn, is the root of ‘acacia’). I know the issue is about scientific names, not common names, and the rules of botanic nomenclature, but somehow this name thing gets under your skin. A good many people care about Acacia, from both sides of the Indian Ocean. All the more reason to find a way through the red-tape of the taxonomic Code to make room for a good compromise like that by Brummitt, so that everyone can keep using the name Acacia.
[This paragraph is an addition subsequent to the original posting]: I note that the proposal by Brummitt – continuing to use Acacia but for specialists inserting a parenthetical marker for the different new genera, as in Acacia (Vachellia) farnesiana – does not seem to be without precedent. In the table below – a screenshot from Wikipedia – the binomial name of the Caribbean pine (a favourite forestry tree here in Fiji), is listed as Pinus (Pinus) caribaea. It looks exactly as Brummitt’s solution would look. Seems to me like a non-offensive and sensible solution. Two disclaimers – one is that the middle Pinus refers to a sub-genus, not an actual genus (but see Jacques Vassal’s comments below); and another that this use does not appear to be common outside of the widely used Wikipedia.
In closing, I should note that I edited my previous posting (where, by the way, you can find some background info) in response to a correction suggested by Dan Murphy. I changed acacia from being the ‘second most common’ to being the ‘most common’ genus in Australia. My mistake.
I see Bruce Maslin uses “I” a lot in his piece – forgetting that the name acacia is used in MANY countries that have billions of people AND where the first named acacia was discovered. He encourages Australians in their HOME country to support his “neocoloniaistic” wants knowing full well that most 3rd World interested-and-affected parties will be unable to afford to come to Melbourne. Not a fair fight! Seems that the International Court at the Hague is the only answer to this onslaught.
I suppose it would be useful to point out a few things:
1) Obviously the Report of the Committee for Spermatophyta was very impressive, presenting many solid arguments. However, there appear to be good arguments on the other side also. More importantly, it is not the Committee that has the power of decision, but the Congress. At the Congress there was a vote, with 55% being against conserving Acacia with a conserved type (that is “moving the name to Australia”). As the requirement for acceptance was, at a minimum, a 60% majority the other way, that should have been the end of it. It is unfortunate that officials created something of a procedural mess, but although this may be somewhat understandable as the situation had never before occurred, this was totally unfounded (for details see this analysis and the various contributions in Taxon). There is no technical basis for the present ‘entry’ in the ICBN: nothing was actually changed at Vienna.
2) The compromise solution proposed by Brummitt (all three genera to be named Acacia) is very untraditional (to put it gently), but does have the great advantage of allowing very great nomenclatural stability. It should be very popular with end users. It is a very courageous proposal and it would be nice if the Congress seriously considered it. The actual wording of the proposal does not look to be suitable, but this is a technical matter and this can be fixed. However, again, it is untraditional to the point of representing a major break with how things have always been done, and it may well be that it is too bold a proposal.
3) The compromise solution proposed by Turland looks to have disadvantages only. On the one hand, it is technically complicated (very untraditional and upsetting, perhaps even more of a break with how things have always been done than the proposal by Brummitt) and, on the other hand, it will mean that no species can have the name Acacia in the future. So, little or no benefit, at considerable cost.
[Note from C. Kull: longer version of this comment now posted as a guest blog]
The views, discussions, and comments regarding the Acacia name are fascinating. I am glad to see that finally the cards are on the table: the name change issue has little to do with so-called scientific objectivity and rules of nomenclature, and everything to do with the feelings and tastes of concerned taxonomists. Although I’m mangling the quote here, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave,” when we use science to deceptively conceal our personal likes and dislikes.
I must confess that I am not a taxonomist in any way, but my work involves looking at Acacia species (African, Indian, Australian, and Central American) in their social contexts. So I am, if you like, an ‘interested participant-observer’ or ‘stakeholder’ in this debate.
The reaction of the defenders of the Vienna decision is predictable. The best form of defence in such situations is to accuse the opposing party of being ‘unscientific’ or implying that they lack the ability to understand the rules (perhaps hinting that although they are part of their species Homo taxonomicus, they aren’t evolved enough to comprehend such complexities?), which is what some Australian botanists and Committee officials appear to be doing. Australian botanists are urging all their members, including any interested member of the public to shell out some hefty registration fees and exercise their vote to keep the Vienna decision. Others have come up with ‘compromise’ proposals that look about as attractive as lukewarm gruel in a faux silver dish.
My first preference is to tell the warring tribes to pull their heads in and, for a change, listen to others of their kind who see no reason to subdivide genuses to the point that there is no way of recognising or understanding variability among species. So what if Acacia is polyphyletic? Why not just say so, and then say that’s what makes it really interesting to study. I like the fact that the broad genus Acacia allows you to see the diversity of species, makes you wonder how and why this diversity came about, think about geographic and climatic factors influencing evolutionary processes… I like the fact that acacias are to be found just about everywhere in the world and that they make us think about commonality and differences just as we do with ourselves and our societies. My preference, therefore, is to propose a new vote to keep the broad definition of Acacia. I don’t know what procedure that involves, or whether this would be tantamount to Blasphemy for practitioners of High Taxonomy. All I know is that whatever happens, I certainly will not use the genus name Vachellia for the trees I study, Acacia nilotica and Acacia farnesiana. If the Australian botanists have the same feeling towards using the genus name Racosperma, and the folks who have been studying gum arabic trees refuse to use Senegalia, then the broad definition of Acacia will prevail by default. Why not vote to keep it broad rather than have a whole bunch of people rebelling against the name changes?
My next preference is to embrace the extraordinary passions and nationalist fervour that have been stoked by the Acacia name change, and to propose a completely new genus name for the Australian species. So the Australian botanists don’t like Racosperma, fine, then appeal to the Botanic Congress members to vote to make an exception to the rule of priority and say that due to the popular dislike of the sound of the word, that name will not be used in relation to the Australian species. Instead, let’s celebrate the very Australianness of this distinctive yet hugely diverse group of Australian wattles by using an Australian Aboriginal name for the genus. That is to say, if the Australian botanists want to select the hickory wattle to be the ‘type’ species, then the genus name would be derived from the name given to this tree by Aboriginal groups from its area of original distribution. If botanists are determined to split the Acacia genus and the Australian advocates for splitting feel nationalistic about their species, then they should be genuinely nationalistic and give their species an Australian Indigenous genus name. This would be far more meaningful and respectful than hijacking the genus name Acacia from all those beautiful thorn trees that have borne that name for centuries, if not millennia.
I proposed a new assessment of the genus Acacia in 1972 (subgenera Aculeiferum, Acacia, Heterophyllum) – in particular with the agreement of Dr P. Brenan/Kew – to avoid a splitting into genera, a probable source of confusion or debates (see for example “Racosperma” ). Our basic, fundamental purpose was to define taxonomic groups, phyletically distinct, on a large basis of data. Brummitt’s compromise solution – Acacia (Racosperma) dealbata for example – emphazises the traditional use of the name “Acacia” through the world. This proposal is not so far from the concept of subgenera. If the retypification of Acacia is maintained in 2011, will it be wholly accepted and used in Africa, America ?… Last question : is the polyphyletism of Acacia incompatible with a splitting into subgenera ?
Pr.Dr Jacques Vassal
University Paul Sabatier – Toulouse- France
ACACIA POLITICS AND ECONOMICS
I have followed your informative website with interest, and a shared passion for Acacias. The various postings have been useful to clarify a number of different interwoven issues that are at stake. First and foremost, this has arguably, and sadly, been one of the most acrimonious and ill-tempered debates in the history of botanical nomenclature. Apart from all of the other fall-out from the debate, it has diverted the attentions of far too many talented botanists from their principal focus of research and conservation.
This, in turn, raises the question of why this issue was ever brought before the Spermatophyta Nomenclature Committee in the first place, and how it has been handled. Emotion is a major factor as you and Bruce Maslin have both pointed out – and clearly not a trivial one. From an African perspective, we are talking of one of the most charismatic group of trees on our continent. The name is highly evocative of the African savannas, and the silhouette of a spreading umbrella Acacia against the sunset is an African icon.
But there is a further critical issue, mentioned by Brummitt in his e-mail that you posted. Acacia is a trademark name, with all of the considerable associated intangible commercial value. Brummitt’s commercial analysis is unfortunately completely one-sided, recognizing only the value to Australia, while ignoring the value of the trademark for Africa and the rest of the world where the genus occurs. Mention the name Acacia to a tourist, and it’s a very good bet that he would associate it with the African savanna and its wildlife, rather than with the Australian outback. The reverse would hold if you mentioned the name wattle. Basically, Acacia is a brand name for the multi-billion dollar African tourism industry. A spreading Acacia is the logo of one of southern Africa’s biggest banks, Acacia Africa is a southern African safari group, and there is an Acacia Hotel in Jakarta, just to mention a few examples to help Brummitt focus his mind on the economic LOSS to the rest of the planet. As Luckow and others noted in their 2005 Taxon paper on the subject, this is a decision in favour of one (first world) country of some 20 million people at the expense of nearly a billion people in Africa alone. So, whatever the emotional issues, the Acacia retyping issue is about money. Big Money losses to the loser, and Big Money gains to the winner.
What to do about this? Perhaps, given the high financial stakes, we should go with the sentiments of Eugene Moll and Priya Rangan, and tell the taxonomists that the Acacias represent a special case, and there will be no splitting of the genus. We will just have to live with a polyphyletic group, which perhaps, with its extensive speciation, has a great deal to tell us about plant evolution, and why some groups have been so successful at diversifying.
If we can’t keep the taxonomists in check on this specific issue, we have to look at what the Nomenclature guidelines say. They are very specific, and Nomenclature Committees are instructed that they:
”will not be sympathetic to proposals to avoid disadvantageous change in usage in one part of the world at the expense of creating disadvantage change in another. These situations are what the principle of priority is for”.
What could be clearer than this mere “Institutional Rule”? Note that the wise authors drafting this guideline did not specify that we had to determine which side had the greater advantage or loss. So we are spared the unnecessary cost of accountants and lawyers. Precedence should prevail if either side will be disadvantaged. Given the emotional value (hardly trivial, as both sides agree) and the financial value of the trade name, one must question how the Chairman of the Spermatophyta Committee even allowed debate on the subject? Surely this, let alone putting the issue to the vote, was a gross dereliction of the trust placed in him to be impartial.
What has happened instead of the Chairman of the Committee upholding a very clear guideline? Brummitt tells us in his e-mail that “The Australian side should be properly organized, as they were before the Vienna Congress when I received 250 messages in support of an Australian Type”. Does this not equate to setting a principle that Nomenclature Guidelines are to be subordinated to ‘Nomenclature by Lobby Group’, with the prize going to the most vociferous lobby. . Surely it is THIS issue that should have required a 60% majority to implement?
And lets drop any façade that there is anything “democratic” about a vote held on an interested party’s home ground, where a one-day registration is offered on voting day. This is a very asymmetrical cost-saving, as tropical botanists elsewhere in the world would still have to meet their travel and accommodation costs. One country of 20 million people will end up with a totally disproportionate voice relative to the rest of the world on an issue where it has a direct interest in a major economic prize. This is pretence at democracy, which will always be to the extreme advantage of the First World for the (financial) benefit of the First World. Is this not applying a gloss of pseudo-democratic varnish to what is in fact legalizing economic and cultural pillage of the Third World by the First World? Yet Again! Surely this makes an utter mockery of any fair system of Nomenclature, and should not the Botanical world hang its collective head in embarrassment, if not shame. But perhaps these are just mere procedural issues, which should not be taken too seriously when Big Money is involved……
So yes, emotions at Melbourne will no doubt match or exceed those of a Wallaby – Springbok rugby clash. But as many – probably a majority – see it from Africa, this is an Away game for the Bok 15, playing a Wallaby 45, with a biased ref, who ignores those rules that do not suit his bias, and then declares the Wallabies winners for their try and a penalty against the two tries and a conversion by the Boks. For those not familiar with the rules of the game, the Wallabies have won by their 8 points to the 12 by the Boks.
The Spermatophyta committee’s flawed decision should be overturned forthwith, and Acacia scorpioides (or its synonym A. nilotica) restored as the type representative of the species. And in future, any Nomenclature Committee Chairperson who fails to uphold the clear guidelines for Nomenclature issues should be heavily censured. The fall-out from the Acacia debacle in terms of the wasted time of many talented scientists and loss of goodwill has been far too costly to allow a repeat.
Intrigued by Jacques Vassal’s comment above, I began to communicate with him, and post here with his permission a longer explanation of his statement. As a longtime Acacia specialist (he presented a Doctorat d’Etat on the genus in 1972), he adds some worthy skepticism to the dominant cladistic and molecular approaches of the day, constructively proposing a return to sub-genera as a way to pause the acacia debate while tempers cool and the science (molecular and other) advances.
ABOUT THE RETYPIFICATION OF ACACIA (by J. Vassal – Toulouse)
The arguments of B.R. Maslin et al. in favour of a re-typification of the genus Acacia (number of australian species, emblematic value, economic interest …) are not sufficiently reliable. This proposal aims in particular to eliminate the generic name “Racosperma” proposed by L. Pedley.
I have told Bruce Maslin of my opposition to this re-typification of the genus. We have known each other for 30 years, have worked extensively, writing together, discussed in Toulouse, Kew, Australia… He has long adopted the principle of subgenera that I proposed in 1972 in full agreement with Dr. P. Brenan, Director of the Herbarium and of the Royal Botanical Garden in Kew (Mimosoideae specialist – especially of the genus Acacia – and a jury member for my thesis). Prof. Theodore Monod, very knowledgeable of African Acacias, was also a proponent of this “wise” position who all the same did not deny the phylogenetic and taxonomic diversity of this vast and complex genus.
Since the last few years the cladists /molecularists stigmatized the polyphyletism – already noted- of the taxon and an argued for an elevation of subgenera to the rank of genera. It is the source of debates launched in 2005, following more especially the re-typification of the genus. Personally, I never had a very strong concern for the definition (partly subjective…) of the rank of a taxon above the species level. I have been more interested in how species can be gathered into groups or are chained together through the use of data as much as possible multidisciplinary. Which is why some personal proposals surprised because sometimes not suitable for traditional “taxonomic customs”. In Australia, I have, in particular, highlighted phyletic and “chaining” links between Pulchellae acacias- with bipinnate leaves – and some species with phyllodes or phylloclades (section Pulchelloidea) as well as between Botrycephalae acacias – with bipinnate leaves – and Phyllodineae Uninerves Racemosae with uninerved phyllodes and racemes of glomerules (section Uninervea).This was also recognized by other authors on different data – see for example D.J. Murphy, Muelleria 26(1) : 10-26 (2008)…- but remains obscured in the currently accepted classification of Australian acacias where Bentham’s 19th century system is still found. Some Australian Acacia specialists are today more interested in nomenclature at the level of the major groups, instead of the evolutionary taxonomy of subgroups of species of their own heritage, so rich and exciting !
Taxonomists might say today what is the gap between the concepts of sub-genus and genus … Clear definitions of these
taxonomic ranks – in conjunction with phylogeny and new cladistic data – would be welcome (just as we made clear after Mayr’s concept of the “biological species”…). Furthermore, there are still additional and vast pluridisciplinary works to carry on within “Acacia sensu lato” which could lead to more reliable conclusions about phylogeny and to a better understanding of levels of taxa in the future.
So, looking forward a more consensual opinion, and to get the scientific community to agree, would it not make sense to study the compromise of a “retreat” to the subgeneric system?
It seems to me, as a botanical outsider, that the Acacia nomenclature issue has been dreadfully badly handled. But also, that the nomenclature guidelines were just not designed to cope with the financial and emotional asymmetries of a win-lose situation. Whatever the taxonomic niceties, or otherwise, of sub-genera, Jacques Vassal’s proposals seems to me to be a very constructive one to achieve a win-win solution. The problem seems to be to get the nomenclature and taxonomic lords to see that given a pretty unique problem, it is necessary to look for a unique solution. Why not accept that in this instance, dividing at a sub-genera level would be acceptable to all except the nomenclature/taxonomic purists. And that the Nomenclature rules would only be bent for these very rare cases. The problem is how to get this message across. Has Jacques perhaps got suggestions to move this concept forward. We really need to kick this damaging debate into touch (to extend the rugby analogy), so that all concerned can focus on the critical problems of research and conservation, where we all have such a common shared vision.
What happened in Melbourne? Why no up-date please?
Key outcomes of IBC Melbourne Nomenclature Section Sessions (18-22 July 2011) as I understood it (I wasn’t there – thanks to a colleague who provided notes)
• The meeting started on Monday 18 July with a discussion of the 60% supermajority rule (clearly contentious due to acacia retypification uproar).
• It then ratified the Vienna Code as printed using a card vote (373 yes, 172 no). The large vote against reflected largely those against the acacia retypification.
• 30 minutes dedicated to acacia retypification issue, focus on various compromise proposals, which ended with little support for Brummit’s proposal, some support for Turland’s proposal, and a move to find a third alternative (an improvement on Turland’s proposal)
• More specifically, Brummitt’s proposal was considered both unconventional and unacceptable; Turland’s compromise proposal to create Protoacacia and Austroacacia was seen as a possible way out, but the name Protoacacia was questioned because it seemed to imply some evolutionary meaning. Rijckervorsel then submitted another proposal replacing Protoacacia with Africacacia. This was critiqued because the Acacia nilotica group of species includes Latin American and Asian species as well.
• Four days later, in the debate over Article 51, the moment arrived for voting on Turland’s proposal. Brian Schrire (Kew) suggested, in the spirit of getting a compromise, a modification to the names in the proposal: that the new genus containing Acacia nilotica be called “Acanthacacia” and the new genus containing the Australian species “Austroacacia”.
• The vote on the Turland proposal (with Schrire’s modifications) was 70% against and 29.1% for.
• The decisions of the Nomenclature Section were later ratified by the full Congress.
• Final outcome: Vienna decision unchanged, but grumbles and hard feelings not necessarily soothed.
If anyone has corrections or further updates, please add a “comment” below!
The Age (Melbourne) ran a news story on it, of course with the name “wattle” in the title which is, after all, what the trees are generally known as in Australia:
In these “Key outcomes” there are some points that need correction:
* “The meeting started on Monday 18 July with a discussion of the 60% supermajority rule” is completely untrue. There was no discussion: somebody moved to institute a 60% supermajority the other way (following the model of Vienna) and this was seconded and accepted: this took maybe 15 seconds?
* I did not “submit[…] another proposal replacing Protoacacia with Africacacia.”. I offered a third option, which accepted that the name Acacia was going to be used for the Australian taxa, but which would allow a different name/spelling to be used for what are now to be the Vachellia-taxa, this new name/spelling to be determined, with as a working option Africacia. This could be done immediately by accepting a simple, if untraditional, new rule into the Code. It would not require any new combinations to be published.
Minor points are:
* In the 30 minute discussion the Brummitt proposal was resurrected (the preliminary mail vote had rendered it dead).
* Actually both the Brummitt and Turland proposal were put to a vote, the Brummitt proposal quickly, and the Turland proposal after a prolonged debate. Turland explained that even if the proposal was accepted, it would not set these names as Austroacacia and Acanthacacia before a subsequent decision by the next Congress, in six years (or more).
Regarding Brummitt’s compromise–I think his presentation of this proposal is rather disingenuous. From his proposal in Taxon: “The names Racosperma, Senegalia and Vachellia, and all combinations published under them, are to be treated as incorrect. This is a purely nomenclatural convention and does not preclude the taxonomic acceptance of segregate genera.” And so he proposes informal names for these segregate genera, e.g., “Acacia (Senegalia)”. This is not a genus name under the ICBN (e.g., 20.3 of the Vienna Code). It -looks like- a combination of genus and subgenus (see 21A.1 of the Vienna Code), but it isn’t. It isn’t really -any- kind of name under the ICBN. What Brummitt is proposing amounts to this: “If you want to split Acacia into monophyletic genera, fine, but I won’t let you use formal ICBN names to do it!” So we must (formally) recognize some species as Acacia while (informally) recognizing it in some other genus. This is absurd. Brummitt’s “compromise” is simply to give the formal victory to himself and informal defeat to any dissenting opinion.
Well, that seems to be his intent, but I don’t think he’s really thought this through. He wants to force formal recognition of a polyphyletic genus Acacia but his proposal in Taxon doesn’t actually do that. Instead, it forces us to unite the types Acacia, Racosperma, Senegalia, and Vachellia into a single genus. Well, OK, Brummitt, but this is going to be most unfortunate. We’re going to have to dump Albizia, Calliandra, Ebenopsis, Enterolobium, Inga, Lysiloma, Pithecellobium, etc.–basically, all of tribe Ingeae plus a few other genera–into Acacia. Is that really what you wanted? Well, under your proposal, it’s what we’ve got to do.
I don’t see that this is at all what Brummitt proposed. What Brummitt proposed was to have up to three genera that each were to be called Acacia (that is, each of the parties involved were to have their own Acacia). This surely would have been very popular with end-users. But, yes, his proposed wording was not suitable, and it was a revolutionary idea, in a discipline that frowns upon revolution.
Why in heavens name cant we all use the “ACACIA ” name, we have for many years. Why change it now!
Andy Moore’s comments hit the nail on the head. A great injustice was done at Melbourne in the name of big money and 1st world interests. The Acacia problem was an Australian problem – one they have now managed to make an African problem by shifting the type species. Africa is now left with a problem not of it own making and for which we do not have the resources or finances to cope. The fact that Australian legume taxonomists would not accept either of the two compromises – was literally a slap in the face for Africa. We were prepared to compromise but they were not. I think that speaks volumes about the lack of conscience of the scientists involved. Also the orchestrated Australian press (newspapers and radio) frenzy that followed the vote was quite tactless. They state in print that “Several options for achieving a good result in Africa and the Americas are available, and will be discussed and considered in the months ahead.” I am not sure where they got this rot from — certainly not from the African delegates I talked too. To turn the tables I think there are several options for achieving a good result in Australia – conserving the name “Wattle” for their Acacia species and refraining from stealing an African heritage that spans almost two millennia would be a good one. The bias of the chairman and rapporteurs on this matter was also reprehensible – it puts into question the integrity of the Botanical Code — which I think is extremely sad. Essentially the Code has been turned into a political and economic tool by people who should have known better. Perhaps I was naive to think the Code actually served some higher need than greed? If the law of priority had been followed (as it should have been) this mess would have been averted. The subversion of this major guiding principal for political and economic ends is reprehensible. Hopefully history will record the Melbourne Nomenclatural session as a dark week for botany. One which tainted an otherwise very interesting IBC.
[…] a topic on which we wrote several blogs last year in the run-up to the Melbourne IBC conference (1, 2, 3). We review the acacia battles as a manifestation of long-standing struggles in science […]