Are species real?

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at MOBOT.ORG
Tue Apr 11 14:04:48 CDT 2006

I always make a distinction between "real" as in the table in front of
me and "real" as in that which I act as if it exists even when there is
a chance it may not. I act as if there is a spectrum of poorly
distinguishable to well distinguishable species because facts (well
documented observations) and scientific theory indicates that if I do,
all is right with the world sufficient of the time that it is in my best
interest to treat species in this way. This seems defensible. 

No, species aren't real like the table in front of me is real. But they
can be treated as real with few surprises.

Richard H. Zander
Missouri Botanical Garden
PO Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA
richard.zander at
Web sites:
For FedEx and UPS use:
Missouri Botanical Garden
4344 Shaw Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63110
-----Original Message-----
From: Ken Kinman [mailto:kinman2 at YAHOO.COM] 
Sent: Monday, April 10, 2006 5:56 PM
Subject: Re: [TAXACOM] Are species real?

I still prefer the notion that species are real, but fuzzy at the
boundaries.  I must admit that I have always thought of plant species as
being generally fuzzier than animal species (especially vertebrates).
But whether it is a plant or an animal, being fuzzy doesn't cause
problems if extinction has wiped out your closest relatives (like the
aardvark, tuatara, or maidenhair tree).  If there are no near relatives
to be "promiscuous" with, there is no problem.  It's sort of like
looking at a single atom in isolation with its fuzzy cloud of electrons.
However, when two or more of these fuzzy atoms overlap in a molecule, it
gets trickier for the human scientist studying them.  When you have
rapidly speciating species (of plants or animals), those fuzzy
boundaries really cause a lot of problems, so much so that it can make
one doubt the reality of species in general.  But can one really say
that the aardvark species is not real?
           Ken Kinman

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