Mayr on "What is a Species"

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Fri Apr 23 15:46:25 CDT 2004

I would also strongly recommend the Wheeler & Meier volume to anyone
interested in understanding these issues in greater detail (particularly in
terms of better understanding the perspectives of those with whom you might
disagree).  I first read it some time ago, but I've been referring back to
it during the course of the recent Taxacom thread. The introduction by Joel
Cracraft summarizes the situation very well, I think.

I would also recommend the following commentary and review of the book:

Avise, John C. 2000. Cladists in Wonderland. Evolution. 54(5):1828-1832.


(Taxacom will no-doubt chop the latter in half, so you'll need to patch it
together in a single continuous string before pasting in your browser.)

Alas, I've as yet been unable to find answers to many of my questions
anywhere in that book, or in other relevant articles I've read on the
subject. (Indeed, my recent questions to this list are those that I would
pose to the authors of the book chapters and relevant articles.)

Having just now read today's batch of contributions on this thread, I've
come to a couple of conclusions:

1) Pierre Deleporte is far more effective at articulating my own
perspectives on these issues than I am (except I'm still not sure I
underdstand why he seems to regard a "population" as something fundamentally
more individual-like than a "subspecies" or "species"; but I suspect it will
ultimately prove to be an issue of semantics, like so many others in this

2) I'm not sure I fully understand Ron's insistence that the notion of
"subspecies" holds some special meaning to be distinguished from "species";
except that "subspecies" just happens to be the smallest class of
individuals addressed by the ICZN Code of Nomenclature.

3) I don't think I have much more to add, other than clarifying
misconceptions about what I've said previously.

Taking these things into consideration, I will thoroughly enjoy continuing
to read the posts on this thread, and (I suspect unlike many other list
subscribers), I hope the thread continues on. However, I will probably step
back into the shadows again for a while as far as posting more of my
taxonomic psychobabble.


Richard L. Pyle, PhD
Ichthyology, Bishop Museum
1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
email: deepreef at

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Taxacom Discussion List [mailto:TAXACOM at LISTSERV.NHM.KU.EDU]On
> Behalf Of Barry Roth
> Sent: Thursday, April 22, 2004 3:48 PM
> Subject: Re: Mayr on "What is a Species"
> An even later statement is found at
> Mayr, E. 2000. The biological species concept. Pp. 17-29 in Q. D.
> Wheeler & R. Meier (eds.), Species Concepts and Phylogenetic
> Theory: a Debate. Columbia University Press: New York.
> The Wheeler & Meier volume contains expositions and reciprocal
> critiques of a number of species concepts.  Much of the material
> is pertinent to the several parallel threads going on here now.
> Indeed, some provide better responses than I can to comments
> posted in response to my small posting here a few days ago.
> Best to all,
> Barry Roth
> Ken Kinman <kinman2 at YAHOO.COM> wrote:
> Dear All,
> For those who have not read it yet, a paper by Ernst Mayr, 1996
> (entitled "What is a Species, and What is Not?") might be of
> interest. Philosophy of Science, 63:262-277. Here is the abstract:
> ---------------------------------
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