Priority rule (biology)

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The priority rule is used in biological nomenclature to ensure the stability and clarity of scientific names for taxa . It basically states that older names have priority over younger (later published) names.

The rule is necessary because it happens again and again that a taxon (e.g. a genus or species ) is described several times in different publications with a new name. Internationally, only one of these names should be accepted permanently. Before applying the priority rule, it is checked whether the publication of a new taxon fulfills the general (slightly different in botany and zoology) criteria for the validity of the publication . Names that were not validly published are not covered by the priority rule.

In the case of competing available names, the principle that the first published name of a taxon is given priority applies. It takes precedence over later names that name the same taxon according to objective or subjective criteria and thus becomes the " valid " name. According to the International Rules for Zoological Nomenclature, deviations from this can only be decided by authorization of the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature : For example, if the name of a “significant” living being has been used in a stable manner for a long time and would have to be changed due to new knowledge, a proposal and after a vote, the traditional name “conserved” or the name that actually has the priority are “suppressed” ( noun conservandum ); an example of such a decision is the Archeopteryx controversy . The possible exceptions and procedures are also described in the international nomenclature rules.

A special feature of the priority rule is that there is an earliest possible time of validity. Publications older than this priority limit are not to be considered. These priority limits were set primarily by the standard works by Linnaeus (Carl von Linné). For plants , May 1, 1753, is the date of publication of the species Plantarum by Linnaeus, the beginning of the valid nomenclature. And correspondingly in zoology January 1, 1758 for the 10th edition of the Systema Naturae by Linnaeus, but with a special feature that an exception was made here for the group of spiders. The work Svenska spindlar von Clerck (1757) is considered by zoologists to have appeared after the 10th edition of the Systema Naturae and is therefore available for the nomenclature. Further regulations have to be taken into account for mosses , fungi , algae , fossil plants or bacteria, for example (see International Code of Nomenclature for Algae, Fungi and Plants ).


As early as 1813, Augustin de Candolle advised to keep the oldest name, unless it is incorrect or contradicts the rules established by Linnaeus. Suggestions from other botanists followed. A binding regulation did not take place until the botanists' congress in Paris in 1867. A draft of the nomenclature rules prepared by Alphonse de Candolle was adopted. After lively discussions in the 1890s, a revision of the rules of 1867 was decided in Vienna in 1905. According to this, certain generic names could be retained as nomina conservanda contrary to the priority rule. This was contradicted by some North American botanists who set up their own code in 1907. The differences of opinion were only resolved in Cambridge in 1930. The Viennese principle of the conservation of generic names was recognized, but the reference to a type was required as a prerequisite.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Paul Bühler, Walter J. Bock: On the Archeopteryx nomenclature, misunderstandings and solution. In: Journal of Ornithology. Vol. 143, No. 3, 2002, pp. 269-286, doi : 10.1046 / j.1439-0361.2002.02006.x .
  2. London Archeopteryx is declared as the reference for famous fossil bird . Website of the 'International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature'. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  3. ^ Rudolf Mansfeld: The technique of scientific plant naming. Introduction to the International Rules of Botanical Nomenclature. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1949, pp. 20–28.