Incertae sedis (Latin for "of uncertain placement") is a term used for a taxonomic group where its broader relationships are unknown or undefined. Alternatively, such groups are frequently referred to as "enigmatic taxa". In the system of open nomenclature, uncertainty at specific taxonomic levels is indicated by incertae familiae (of uncertain family), incerti subordinis (of uncertain suborder), incerti ordinis (of uncertain order) and similar terms.
- The fossil plant Paradinandra suecica could not be assigned to any family, but was placed incertae sedis within the order Ericales when described in 2001.
- The fossil Gluteus minimus, described in 1975, could not be assigned to any known animal phylum. The genus is therefore incertae sedis within the kingdom Animalia.
- While it was unclear to which order the New World vultures (family Cathartidae) should be assigned, they were placed in Aves incertae sedis. It was later agreed to place them in a separate order, Cathartiformes.
- Bocage's longbill, Amaurocichla bocagei, a species of passerine bird, belongs to the superfamily Passeroidea. Since it is unclear to which family it belongs, it is classified as Passeroidea incertae sedis.
- HeLa cells, descended from human cervical cancer cells, may diverge genetically from normal human cells sufficiently to be categorized as a new species with largely incertae sedis taxonomy.
In formal nomenclature
When formally naming a taxon, uncertainty about its taxonomic classification can be problematic. The International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants, stipulates that "species and subdivisions of genera must be assigned to genera, and infraspecific taxa must be assigned to species, because their names are combinations", but ranks higher than the genus may be assigned incertae sedis.
Reason for use
This excerpt from a 2007 scientific paper about crustaceans of the Kuril-Kamchatka Trench and the Japan Trench describes typical circumstances through which this category is applied in discussing:
...the removal of many genera from new and existing families into a state of incertae sedis. Their reduced status was attributed largely to poor or inadequate descriptions but it was accepted that some of the vagueness in the analysis was due to insufficient character states. It is also evident that a proportion of the characters used in the analysis, or their given states for particular taxa, were inappropriate or invalid. Additional complexity, and factors that have misled earlier authorities, are intrusion by extensive homoplasies, apparent character state reversals and convergent evolution.
Not included in an analysis
If a formal phylogenetic analysis is conducted that does not include a certain taxon, the authors might choose to label the taxon incertae sedis instead of guessing its placement. This is particularly common when molecular phylogenies are generated, since tissue for many rare organisms is hard to obtain. It is also a common scenario when fossil taxa are included, since many fossils are defined based on partial information. For example, if the phylogeny was constructed using soft tissue and vertebrae as principal characters and the taxon in question is only known from a single tooth, it would be necessary to label it incertae sedis.
If conflicting results exist or if there is not a consensus among researchers as to how a taxon relates to other organisms, it may be listed as incertae sedis until the conflict is resolved.
In zoological nomenclature
In botany, a name is not validly published if it is not accepted by the author in the same publication.Article 36.1 In zoology, a name proposed conditionally may be available under certain conditions.Articles 11 and 15 For uncertainties at lower levels, the system of open nomenclature suggests that question marks be used to denote a questionable assignment. For example, if a new species was given the specific epithet album by Anton and attributed with uncertainty to Agenus, it could be denoted "Agenus? album Anton (?Anton)"; the "(?Anton)" indicates the author that assigned the question mark. So if Anton described Agenus album, and Bruno called the assignment into doubt, this could be denoted "Agenus? album (Anton) (?Bruno)", with the parentheses around Anton because the original assignment (to Agenus) was modified (to Agenus?) by Bruno.
- The dictionary definition of incertae sedis at Wiktionary
- Glossary of scientific naming
- Nomen dubium, a name of unknown or doubtful application
- Species inquirenda, a species that in the opinion of the taxonomist requires further investigation
- "Glossary". International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- "Frequently Asked Questions". PLANTS database. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- Allaby, M. (1999). A Dictionary of Zoology. Oxford University Press. p. 704. Retrieved January 5, 2013.
- S. C. Matthews (1973). "Notes on open nomenclature and synonymy lists". Palaeontology 16 (4): 713–719.
- Jürg Schönenberger & Else Marie Friis (2001). "Fossil flowers of ericalean affinity from the Late Cretaceous of Southern Sweden". American Journal of Botany 88 (3): 467–480. doi:10.2307/2657112. PMID 11250825.
- Richard Arnold Davis & Holmes A. Semken, Jr. (1975). "Fossils of uncertain affinity from the Upper Devonian of Iowa". Science 187 (4173): 251–254. doi:10.1126/science.187.4173.251. JSTOR 1739069. PMID 17838783.
- J. V. Remsen, Jr., C. D. Cadena, A. Jaramillo, M. Nores, J. F. Pacheco, M. B. Robbins, T. S. Schulenberg, F. G. Stiles, D. F. Stotz & K. J. Zimmer (2007). "A classification of the bird species of South America". South American Classification Committee. American Ornithologists' Union. Archived from the original on October 10, 2007. Retrieved October 15, 2007.
- J. V. Remsen, Jr., C. D. Cadena, A. Jaramillo, M. Nores, J. F. Pacheco, M. B. Robbins, T. S. Schulenberg, F. G. Stiles, D. F. Stotz & K. J. Zimmer (2011). "A classification of the bird species of South America". South American Classification Committee. American Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- McNeill, J.; Barrie, F.R.; Buck, W.R.; Demoulin, V.; Greuter, W.; Hawksworth, D.L.; Herendeen, P.S.; Knapp, S.; Marhold, K.; Prado, J.; Prud'homme Van Reine, W.F.; Smith, G.F.; Wiersema, J.H.; Turland, N.J. (2012). International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (Melbourne Code) adopted by the Eighteenth International Botanical Congress Melbourne, Australia, July 2011. Regnum Vegetabile 154. A.R.G. Gantner Verlag KG. ISBN 978-3-87429-425-6. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
- Graham J. Bird (2007). Family incertae cedis [sic] (PDF excerpt). In K. Larsen & M. Shimomura. "Tanaidacea (Crustacea: Peracarida) from Japan III. The deep trenches; the Kurile-Kamchatka Trench and Japan Trench". Zootaxa 1599: 121–149.