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numerical taxonomyNumerische Taxonomie (ger.)

  • The classification of organisms by a quantitative analysis of their similarities and differences, without reference to evolutionary relationships (cf. phenetic adj.). (OED 2011)

    Blyth had glimpsed the negative aspects of the struggle for existence and the way in which species were eliminated. He failed to see, however, that natural selection was a potentially liberalizing rather than conservative factor in life. This is particularly curious because, unlike his contemporary, Swainson, he remained undeceived by the highly artificial numerical taxonomy which was in popular favor at the time.

    Eiseley, L.C. & Grote, A. (1959). Charles Darwin, Edward Blyth, and the theory of natural selection. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103, 94-158: 101.


    These methods have been called ‘quantitative systematics’ in the past. Recently Sokal and Sneath have renamed then collectively as ‘numerical taxonomy’ (Sokal, 1960).

    Sokal, R.R. (1961). Distance as a measure of taxonomic similarity. Systematic Zoology 10, 70-79: 70.


    We have named this field ‘numerical taxonomy’, which may be defined as ‘the numerical evaluation of the affinity or similarity between taxonomic units and the ordering of these units into taxa on the basis of their affinities’. The primary aims of the method are repeatability and objectivity, on both of which taxonomy to·day is open to strong criticism. It is the aim of numerical taxonomy to develop methods by means of which different scientists, working quite independently, will and must arrive at identical estimates of the affinity between two organisms, given the same characters on which to base their judgments. We believe that these methods will lead to stable classifications which will not need extensive revision as new knowledge becomes available. The wide use of quantitative measures of relationship should greatly increase the accuracy and precision of taxonomy.

    Sneath, P.H.A. & Sokal, R.R. (1962). Numerical taxonomy. Nature 193, 855-860: 856.


    Numerical taxonomy is the evaluation by numerical methods of the affinity and similarity between taxonomic units and the employment of these affinities in erecting a hierarchic order of taxa. The ideas on which numerical taxonomy rests go back to Adanson

    Sneath, P.H.A. & Sokal, R.R. (1963). Principles of Numerical Taxonomy: viii.