Are species real?

Richard Pyle deepreef at BISHOPMUSEUM.ORG
Tue Apr 11 14:51:45 CDT 2006

> The thing is, you're conflating the realness of species with our ability
> to discern them.  

Not really -- I was just showing how refering to human ancestry is not "changing the rules of the game". I was just illustrating how any given snapshot in time intersects examples at all stages of the same game.  In other words, instead of looking at one lineage over a long time, we're looking at many lineages at one moment in time, at different stages of the process (of speciation).  The same problems are manifest in both.  Same problems, same game, same rules.

> I think the cases where
> the organisms in questions are really ambiguous *as species* - i.e., are
> in the process of splitting into two species - is much lower than the
> number where we simply don't know enough about them and have to make
> decisions by squinting our eyes and drawing a line.  

That's exactly the crux I tried to present in the previous post -- looking at the relative frequencies.  I agree that the burden we face is in understanding the biology.  But my point is, even if we knew the biology 100% in all cases, arguments about where to draw species lines would not disappear.  I don't even think they would decrease in frequency.  In fact, I bet such arguments would increase.  It would be very interesting to do a meta-analysis of whether there is a stronger tendency for historically stable species boundaries to de-stabilize with the introduction of new information (e.g., DNA evidence); or whether there is a stronger tendency for historically unstable species boundaries to become stabilized with more information. I have my suspicions about what such an analysis would show.


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