Re: Genus names

Wed, 22 Feb 1995 06:44:57 GMT

In article <3ib9em$14h@jupiter.WichitaKS.NCR.COM> (Jim Foley) writes:

>I was reading "The First Humans", the first book in a five volume series
>from the American Museum of Natural History (I think). It said that
>most people in the field now put the robust australopithecines in the
>Paranthropus genus. Is this statement true? It would seem a bit
>premature if we don't know that they form a clade.

Last year at the meeting of the American Association of Physical
Anthropologists I did an informal survey, and a random sample of
presentations. My conclusion was that "most" physical anthropologists still
refer the robust australopithecines to _Australopithecus_. In and of
itself, that has no significance. The truth is that we still have not
agreed on a definition of "species", so a definition of "genus" and criteria
for generic status is a bit dubious. Yet I always find it curious that _A.
robustus_ and _A. boisei_ get grouped together by some into _Paranthropus_
when the former is much more closely related to _A. africanus_ (and the
latter is PERHAPS more closely related to _A. afarensis_, according to some
accounts). But, as Raymond Dart once asked about the most famous skulls of
_A. boisei_ and _A. africanus_, "I wonder what would happen if late one
night, Dear Boy met Mrs. Ples?"

>In addition, this volume treats the splitting of H. habilis into
>H. habilis and H. rudolfensis as a done deal. It also makes use of the
>species names H. ergaster and H. heidelbergensis sometimes. I'm curious
>as to how widely these are accepted too.

NOT a done deal, although the possibility of _H. rudolfensis_ is perhaps
better established than _H. ergaster_ and certainly moreso than _H.
heidelbergensis_. I DO have a lumping bias, however, for I believe that
these unanswerable "species" questions are a distraction from more
interesting scientific debates on the causes and correlates of evolutionary
form and function.

Dr. Jeffrey K. McKee (055JKMS@CHIRON.WITS.AC.ZA)
Hominid Palaeoecology Research Programme
Department of Anatomy and Human Biology
University of the Witwatersrand Medical School
Johannesburg, Gauteng
Republic of South Africa