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Please feel free to construe this question broadly--I don't see why the question would not apply to branches of biology other than mycology.

If the goal of taxonomy is to create classification of fungi that reflect evolutionary relationships, and if this results in a more or less unmanageable proliferation of names, might it not be a good idea to use a numeric or alpha-numeric system instead of a verbal one? One author estimates there may be as many as 5 million species of fungi (and it may take 1000 years to catalog them). If we did manage to note them all would the result really be useable? The ease of storage and retrieval alone would seem to commend a numerical approach.

I assume someone has thought of this before and I guess viral taxonomy does this to some extent. Are there any proposals like this afoot?

Thanks for any insights.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

(First of all the term numerical taxonomy has a completely different meaning. Here you are talking about nomenclature.)

(To make it clear: you are talking about species.)

Simpler for whom?

For humans numbers are much less memorizable than pronounceable and often meaningful words. For database management identification numbers are unavoidable - that's true, because numbers require less disk space and lead to smaller indices and faster access, but that doesn't mean that the text field "title" should be abandoned.

In IndexFungorum, for example, they have id's for every name: e.g. for Boletus edulis, but they do not expect the user to use 228098 in place of the name, because that would be inconvenient.

On Mycobank different id's are used: I'd agree, that would be good to have the same id everywhere, but database managers nicely trace these numbers for us (see e.g. the "Other fungal links" section).

By the way, nomenclature of Fungi is controlled by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants. Nomenclature of viral species is still based on memorizable names.

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Actually I think I was talking about numerical taxonomy in the context of fungi but this answer was useful. Thanks. – daniel Apr 11 '14 at 22:22

This is actually already done in some contexts.

For instance: yeast (a fungus) is a pretty extensively studied organism, and this means that there are a vast number of yeast strains which are know/used by biologists. Many of these strains are referred to simply by an alphanumeric string rather than a "verbal" name. (some examples in link 1)

This is also the case for bacteria, and maybe most of microbiology.

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