Taxacom S/N ratio

Linda at Linda at
Wed Feb 15 12:31:09 CST 1995

On Feb 15th, Peter Rauch forwarded a message to Taxacom which read, in
> Could it be that the swinging of the systematic pendulum is generated by
> adherance to the notion that species are real biological entities
> when, indeed, they may not be? Are we trying to force square pegs into
> round holes?  I don't have the answer to this question, though I've given
> it some thought. It is not an easy problem, perhaps because we still do
> not understand nature well enough? We still have over a dozen viable
> competing species concepts and there has never been a time when there has
> been a consensus on which species definition is most likely to be
> correct. This should be a most visible red flag, yet while almost all
> whole organismal biologists invest some time comparing species concepts
> few question the validity of the species as a true entity. Most biologists
> just assume that species are real and go forward. Ornithologists further
> assume that the BSC is correct (it does work well for most all bird
> species). Yet, that we should have so much trouble defining what a
> species is should indicate to us that the concept itself may be flawed.
> ...
> Byron K, Butler, Guilford, CT

Peter wants to know if Taxacom is missing the target because there are many
group-specific lists on which general discussions (like the above from
BridChat) take place. I think yes. I have not seen any discussion of the
species concept recently on Taxacom, for example.

So, to get such a discussion started: Certain species concepts
apply well ONLY to certain organisms. Bacteria, which have
dominated the biological history of Earth, have NOT similarly
dominated evolutionary theory! So why shouldn't there be several species
concepts, like there are several languages, that all work in their own
sphere? Maybe we should spend more time matching species concepts to
the groups they accurately describe, instead of arguing over which ONE
concept is the RIGHT one. (Isn't that like asking which language is the
RIGHT language?) One could argue, I suppose, that then you're giving
the same name (species) to different entities, but I again refer to
the language metaphor...languages differ a lot
(in structure, grammar, mode of transmission and so forth)
but despite the fuzziness of the language concept, there is
still value to calling them all languages.
Dr. Linda Stathoplos            Phone: 202-606-1139
NOAA, NODC, E/OC52              Fax:   202-606-4586
1825 Connecticut Ave. NW        e-mail:
Washington, DC 20235 USA        stath at

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