GIVE

The Name Game: Thoughts on the Proposed Reclassification of Aedini

In a previous Buzz Words column (Dec. 2000), I supported the proposed reclassification by Reinert (J. Am. Mosq. Control Assoc. 16: 175-188. 2000) elevating the subgenus Ochlerotatus to genus level. I supported this on the basis that, at the time, I accepted that the resulting new taxonomy better reflected the natural relationships in the group. In Reinart et al. (Zool. J. Linnean Soc. 142: 289-368. 2004) the authors propose elevating dozens of Aedini subgenera to genus rank. As a result, some of the most well known mosquito species, i.e., Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, will have different names, Stegomyia aegypti, Stegomyia albopicta respectively.

There has been much debate on the appropriateness of the new proposal. Readers can review some of this debate at http://wrbu.si.edu/forums under "Public Comments".

A few words about nomenclature are in order. A primary goal of the Linnaean binomial system of genus and species is to ensure that the name of each species is distinct within each unique genus according to the rules of priority. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature recognizes that classifications above the species rank may depend on subjective interpretations of taxonomic evidence. As a result, agreement on these rankings is arrived through consensus of the experts in systematics. Any classification is ultimately adopted by the rest of the scientific community.

The proposed reclassification of Aedine mosquitoes has sweeping implications with impacts that include a likely increase in confusion in the literature and throughout the discipline of biology. In the context of the most recent proposal, perhaps the quick acceptance of Ochlerotatus as a genus was premature. However, Ochlerotatus is now being widely used.

There is considerable disagreement among systematics experts on the appropriateness and necessity of the proposed changes in the classification of Aedine mosquitoes. I suspect that most of the Buzz Words readers who have reviewed Reinart et al. (Zool. J. Linnean Soc. 142: 289-368. 2004) will agree with me that the paper is tough reading. A non-expert reading this paper will find little help in being able to independently interpret its validity and rationale because the classification system is based on hundreds of obscure morphological characters (at least obscure to me) analyzed using computer programs that most of us will not be able to understand.

So where do we stand? I advise that readers adopt the view of the Journal of Medical Entomology (JME) Editor-in-Chief, Dr. John D. Edman, a view supported by the Journal's Subject Editors, and supported by the Journal Editorial Board. This view is shared by other medical entomology journals including:

  • American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene
  • Annals of Tropical Medicine & Parasitology
  • Emerging Infectious Diseases
  • Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association
  • Journal of Vector Ecology
  • Medical and Veterinary Entomology
  • Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene
  • Vector-Borne & Zoonotic Diseases
  • PROMED.

Edman advises that more research and interpretation are needed to develop a consensus on the Reinart et al. reclassifications of Aedines. It is premature to unilaterally accept the proposals at this time. Until clear analysis and interpretation is forthcoming to develop consensus agreement, Edman encourages authors to maintain the traditional nomenclature. The JME will permit authors to use the Reinart et al. classifications of Aedini if they are convinced of the elevation of any particular genus. When using the Reinart et al. (2004) classification authors are asked to include the traditional name in parentheses immediately after the species is first mentioned, for example Stegomyia albopicta (= Aedes albopictus, see Reinert et al. 2004), and Ochlerotatus triseriatus (= Aedes triseriatus, see Reinert 2000).

Stay tuned as the name game continues.

Walter J. Tabachnick, Director
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory
University of Florida/IFAS