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Wastebasket taxon

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Collage of Protista, probably the best-known wastebasket taxon. The members have little in common apart from being Eukaryota that are not plants, animals or fungi i.e. not complex multicellular organisms.

Wastebasket taxon (also called a wastebin taxon,[1] dustbin taxon[2] or catch-all taxon[3]) is a term used by some taxonomists to refer to a taxon that has the purpose of classifying organisms that do not fit anywhere else. They are typically defined by either their designated members' often superficial similarity to each other, or their lack of one or more distinct character states or by their not belonging to one or more other taxa. Wastebasket taxa are by definition either paraphyletic or polyphyletic, and are therefore not considered valid taxa under strict cladistic rules of taxonomy. The name of a wastebasket taxon may in some cases be retained as the designation of an evolutionary grade, however.

The term was coined in a 1985 essay by Steven Jay Gould.[4][5]


There are many examples of paraphyletic groups, but true "wastebasket" taxa are those that are known not to, and perhaps not intended to, represent natural groups, but are nevertheless used as convenient groups of organisms. The acritarchs are perhaps the most famous example. Wastebasket taxa are often old (and perhaps not described with the systematic rigour and precision that is possible in the light of accumulated knowledge of diversity) and populous; further characteristics are reviewed by.[6]

Wastebasket taxa in science[edit]

Fossil groups that are poorly known due to fragmentary remains are sometimes grouped together on gross morphology or stratigraphy, only later to be found to be wastebasket taxa, such as the crocodile-like Triassic group Rauisuchia.[13]

One of the roles of taxonomists is to identify wastebasket taxa and reclassify the content into more natural units. Sometimes, during taxonomic revisions, a wastebasket taxon can be salvaged after doing thorough research on its members, and then imposing tighter restrictions on what continues to be included. Such techniques "saved" Carnosauria and Megalosaurus. Other times, the taxonomic name contains too much unrelated "baggage" to be successfully salvaged. As such, it is usually dumped in favour of a new, more restrictive name (for example, Rhynchocephalia), or abandoned altogether (for example, Simia).[citation needed]

Related concepts[edit]

A related concept is that of form taxon, "wastebasket" groupings that are united by gross morphology. This is often result of a common mode of life, often one that is generalist, leading to generally similar body shapes by convergent evolution.[citation needed]

The term wastebasket taxon is sometimes employed in a derogatory fashion to refer to an evolutionary grade taxon.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Friedman, M.; Brazeau, M.D (7 February 2011). "Sequences, stratigraphy and scenarios: what can we say about the fossil record of the earliest tetrapods?". Proceedings of the Royal Society. 278 (1704): 432–439. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.1321. PMC 3013411. PMID 20739322.
  2. ^ Hallam, A.; Wignall, P. B. (1997). Mass extinctions and their aftermath. Oxford [England]: Oxford University Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-19-854916-1.
  3. ^ Monks, N. (July 2002). "Cladistic analysis of a problematic ammonite group: the Hamitidae (Cretaceous, Albian-Turonian) and proposals for new cladistic terms". Palaeontology. 45 (4): 689–707. Bibcode:2002Palgy..45..689M. doi:10.1111/1475-4983.00255.
  4. ^ Gould, S. J. (1985). "Treasures in a taxonomic wastebasket". Natural History. 94: 22–33.
  5. ^ Plotnick, Roy E.; Wagner, Peter J. (2006). "Round up the Usual Suspects: Common Genera in the Fossil Record and the Nature of Wastebasket Taxa". Paleobiology. 32 (1): 126–146. Bibcode:2006Pbio...32..126P. doi:10.1666/04056.1. JSTOR 4096821. S2CID 86606882.
  6. ^ Plotnick, Roy E.; Wagner, Peter J. (2006). "Round up the Usual Suspects: Common Genera in the Fossil Record and the Nature of Wastebasket Taxa". Paleobiology. 32 (1): 126–146. Bibcode:2006Pbio...32..126P. doi:10.1666/04056.1. JSTOR 4096821. S2CID 86606882.
  7. ^ Chase, Mark W.; Sue Zmarzty; M. Dolores Lledó; Kenneth J. Wurdack; Susan M. Swensen; Michael F. Fay (2002). "When in doubt, put it in Flacourtiaceae: a molecular phylogenetic analysis based on plastid rbcL DNA sequences". Kew Bulletin. 57 (1): 141–181. Bibcode:2002KewBu..57..141C. doi:10.2307/4110825. JSTOR 4110825.
  8. ^ Whittaker RH (January 1969). "New concepts of kingdoms or organisms. Evolutionary relations are better represented by new classifications than by the traditional two kingdoms". Science. 163 (3863): 150–60. Bibcode:1969Sci...163..150W. CiteSeerX doi:10.1126/science.163.3863.150. PMID 5762760.
  9. ^ Young AM (2002). "Brief notes on the status of Family Hygrophoraceae Lotsy". Australasian Mycologist. 21 (3): 114–6.
  10. ^ Naish, Darren (8 August 2013). "Phenacodontidae, I feel like I know you". Tetrapod Zoology. Scientific American.
  11. ^ Cooper, Lisa Noelle; Seiffert, Erik R.; Clementz, Mark; Madar, Sandra I.; Bajpai, Sunil; Hussain, S. Taseer; Thewissen, J. G. M. (2014). "Anthracobunids from the Middle Eocene of India and Pakistan Are Stem Perissodactyls". PLOS ONE. 9 (10): e109232. Bibcode:2014PLoSO...9j9232C. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109232. PMC 4189980. PMID 25295875.
  12. ^ Moore, A.J.; Upchurch, P.; Barrett, P.M.; Clark, J.M.; Xing, X. (2020). "Osteology of Klamelisaurus gobiensis (Dinosauria, Eusauropoda) and the evolutionary history of Middle–Late Jurassic Chinese sauropods". Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. 18 (16): 1299–1393. Bibcode:2020JSPal..18.1299M. doi:10.1080/14772019.2020.1759706. S2CID 219749618.
  13. ^ Nesbitt, Sterling J. (2003). "Arizonasaurus and its implications for archosaur divergence". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 270 (Suppl 2): S234-7. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2003.0066. PMC 1809943. PMID 14667392.