The open tree of life has 2754 species and subspecies with the prefix Rosa.

Wiki says:

There is significant disagreement over the number of true rose species. Some species are so similar that they could easily be considered variations of a single species. Lists of rose species usually show between 100 and 150.

The thing is that a subspecies in the open tree taxonomy (OTT) should be written with a different latin name, and I can find at least 400 OTT rosa that are listed as individual species and not subspecies.

Is the OTT not very coherent in terms of accepted species?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ OTT does not claim the taxonomy to be perfect, as it was generated by a synthesis of a lot of existing taxonomies. This might lead to an overrepresentation of some species/subspecies, because they have been classified differently in different taxonomies. $\endgroup$
    – skymningen
    Jan 19 '16 at 12:07

There are at least three possible explanations (and quite likely more):

1) You may be correct in suggesting that the OTT isn't "very coherent."* In other words, they may have a little work to do. I don't know enough about the site to offer a solid opinion.

2) The OTT may be unintentionally repeating someone else's error(s).

3) The OTT has to work with the information that's available, and, in the realm of taxonomy, that information can be very confusing. Different authorities recognized different classification schemes. Scientific names also change over time; for example, the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) used to be Thalarctos maritimus.

I don't know enough about OTT to really understand exactly how it works. However, I typed in Ursus (a subspecies in the bear family), and it listed 22 "Descendant tips." Curiously, it didn't display a list of species and subspecies, however. When I type in Panthera (the "big cats"), it does display a list of species and subspecies. I don't know if that reflects a problem with OTT or not.

You're focusing on the genus Rosa, which, as you say, is complex. In fact, I just thought of a fourth possibility...

4) Domestication - Many species in the genus Rosa have been domesticated and/or hybridized. It's possible that OTT is including the names of cultivated species. (It shouldn't be too hard to determine if this is the case if you're familiar with the Latin names of some cultivated species.)

Ultimately, the people best qualified to answer your question are probably the people behind OTT. I'm very interested in finding a definitive answer myself, because taxonomy is a major personal interest. I also find it endlessly confusing. ;)

P.S. I once wrote an article about a particular phylum of marine invertebrates. I stated that there were X number of species in the phylum, using a similar website as a reference. However, a specialist later told me I was way off base. I can't remember the details, but I believe there was either an error with the "master database" or there were conflicts between two or more databases. Like I said, taxonomy is confusing.

*Regarding coherence, we might also consider the target audience. This definitely is not what I would call a user-friendly site. I'm a lifelong naturalist with a degree in ecology/biology, and I find it very confusing. But rather than call it "incoherent," we might just say it isn't user-friendly.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I have written a windows program that can read the 86megabyte OTT tree and display search results from N generations of a family, i.e. Panthera and 4 parent generations and all related leaves of the tree... The program opens google image searches for every related phylae, and you can also select a leaf to view a google image page or wiki text for every leaf species. even without subspecies i have branches with 500 species which doesnt make for very good trees. So I am confused what to do with my program, it's finished and is buggy O_O $\endgroup$ Jan 21 '16 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, but I can't be of much help there. I'm also working on a biology website, but the focus is more on content, as my writing skills are far better than my programming skills. Are you familiar with StackOverflow.com? They might be able to help you from a programming angle. But between programming and the black hole that taxonomy has evolved into, I spend a lot of time scratching my head. I'd like to know more about your project when it's finished, though. $\endgroup$ Jan 21 '16 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ Please could you add some supporting scientific material that reinforces your answer and allows further reading. $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Mar 8 '16 at 7:34

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