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Why the Bird Matters (was: Ceratosauria vs Neotetanurae)



  Mike Keesey questioned my objection to the use of *Vultur gryphus* over that 
of any other bird, and for this reason I feel a minor defense of my statements 
to account for is warranted. 

  First, naming any particular bird as the specific internal/external specifier 
for a clade whose definition must include some sort of bird will be arbitrary, 
so it shouldn't actually matter which, save that there are reasons why a 
particular species might be favorable. Linnaeus did list *Vultur gryphus* 
first, but this significant marker bears no other purpose than an arbitrary 
line that is hardly favored elsewhere (that is, the first available taxon name 
is not always a "right" internal specifier, especially if the first used taxon 
name was renamed, or remove, for any reason later on).

  Second, *Vultur gryphus* represents a particularly derived avian taxon which, 
despite its familiarity as a record setting avian, is restricted in its range 
and, being endangered, is restricted in its availability for study as an 
exemplar for anatomical works (and may further me limited only to existing 
museum specimens if it declines toward extinction). We must refer generally to 
studied materials to include it, but it is hardly a concept avian for inclusion 
in anatomical studies where birds are concerned respecting other groups; 
furthermore, studied materials made predate the decline of the species or are 
based on captive specimens, and may not represent wild-type condors. 

  Thirdly, generally more abundant, widespread or anatomically normative 
(baseline?) taxa may be more  preferrable especially as conceptually 
representative of the term "bird." Mike suggested *Tinamus major* (Gmelin, 
1789) but one tends to be wary of the apparent trend towards flightlessness in 
said taxon. I suggested *Passer domesticus* (Linnaeus, 1758) once based on its 
broad familiarity (despite being a strictly Eurpoean taxon [sans introductions 
elsewhere]), but it might also be preferrable to use a more homogenous taxon 
like *Columba livia* (Gmelin, 1789) given its widespread availability and 
common appearance (even if it, too, is derived -- as are almost any other avian 
taxa). 

  If the geographical or specimen availability or derivativity (?) of a taxon 
are not issues, why would nomenclatural primacy be material? I would argue that 
the very availability of a taxon should be somewhat favorable for the sake of 
specimen study and observation, whereas the primacy of taxonomy serves limited 
purpose save for the Principle of Coordination (a concept that sustains the 
ICZN, but is dying as people are becoming aware of the actual nature of ranks, 
and may end when/if ranks do).

Cheers,

  Jaime A. Headden

"Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth." --- P.B. Medawar (1969)


"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn
from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent
disinclination to do so." --- Douglas Adams (Last Chance to See)


"Ever since man first left his cave and met a stranger with a
different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race
has had a dream: to kill him, so we don't have to learn his language or
his new way of looking at things." --- Zapp Brannigan (Beast With a Billion 
Backs)

                                          
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