There’s an old saying, “life imitates art.”
The last few days have seen renewed discussion of the proposal to split Anolis into multiple genera. In their most recent paper, Nicholson et al. (2014) explain why they want to split up Anolis: “Starting with Savage (1973), we have made clear our conclusion that the beta section of Williams (1976) deserves generic status (Norops).” The reason, as they explain in the preceding paragraph: “Anyone who has caused a squamate’s tail to separate from its body, and has read Etheridge’s paper, understands immediately why we conclude that the beta condition within anoles is as important to understanding the diversity of that group as the toe lamellae of anoles is to understanding the evolution of Dactyloidae.” In other words, the caudal vertebral structure of Norops, “a derived condition of the caudal vertebrae unique among squamates, ” is so notable and distinctive that Norops needs to be recognized as a genus to call attention to and emphasize this evolutionary transition.
This approach follows the rationale of Ernst Mayr’s Evolutionary Systematics Classification system, whose goal was to highlight major evolutionary transitions. This approach has generally fallen out of favor, however, because it often led to the recognition of paraphyletic groups, such as “reptiles, ” when birds are elevated due to their evolutionary significance.
Nicholson et al. (2014) solve this problem, however, by recognizing the clade they consider important, Norops, but then recognizing as many other clades as necessary to render all clades monophyletic: “Therefore, the seven additional genera that we propose as replacements for the alpha section represent the minimum number of genera needed to eliminate the problem of the previous taxonomy” once Norops is elevated to generic status. Evolutionary classification meets phylogenetic systematics!
Coevolution of Animals and Plants: Symposium V, First International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology, 1973 (Dan Danciger Publication Series)
eBooks (University of Texas Press)
Biodiversity Conservation and Phylogenetic Systematics: Preserving our evolutionary heritage in an extinction crisis (Topics in Biodiversity and Conservation)