[Taxacom] Species Concepts and Nomenclature Question (Was: RepliesRe: Economist leader addressed to taxonomists)

Richard Zander Richard.Zander at mobot.org
Thu May 24 08:55:26 CDT 2007


Species concepts continue to be problematic. If you have a particular
method, just invent a species concept to fit it exactly, e.g. the
bar-code species concept. 

I rather like the olde tyme species concept I was taught back in the
dark ages of the 60's: an expert taxonomist devises a practical basic
unit of taxonomy from any and all information. Nowadays, the
phylogenetic species concept is small beer in that it is only part of
what should be considered in developing a particular species concept. It
has the same problems the so-called biological species concept has:
determining exactly what is the basic tokogenetic (panmictic) group (or
for the latter the limits of sexual exchange). In addition, I might
point out that haplotypes do not define populations since the loci do
not recombine. To visualize, each population has a little cladogram of
chloroplast, or mitochondrial, or Y chromosome changes in it. Even
nuclear DNA may have this problem when recombination is restricted. 

I'm promoting the resurrection of Van Valen's ecological species concept
as more practical, with phylogenetic data used when reliable and
relevant. This comes down to comparative evolutionary ecology.
Eventually one hopes that we can approach a real-time process-based
total-biology species concept for at least well-known species. 

I think De Querioz has published a nice summary of the dozens of species
concepts out there.

Richard H. Zander 
Voice: 314-577-0276
Missouri Botanical Garden
PO Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166-0299 USA
richard.zander at mobot.org
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> -----Original Message-----
> From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [mailto:taxacom-
> bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Richard Pyle
> Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2007 9:16 PM
> To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> Subject: [Taxacom] Species Concepts and Nomenclature Question (Was:
> RepliesRe: Economist leader addressed to taxonomists)
> Thanks to Geoff for forwarding the link to the rebuttal letters to the
> Economist article, and a very special thanks to the authors of both
> letters
> for their eloquence!  I thought both letters were very effective at
> capturing the shortcomings of the original article, and also helped
> communicate a more accurate representation of our (taxonomists') role
> modern civilization.  Nice job!
> One line in the letter from the Ruedas & Brown letter did catch my
> and
> affords me an opportunity to post a question to this list that I've
> meaning to send for some time now (hence the new subject line).
> The quote that caught my eye was this one:
> "...our concepts of what constitutes a species have been brought up to
> date
> from "whatever a competent taxonomist decides it is" to a more
> measured view."
> The authors follow this by explaining that early taxonomists were not
> aware
> of, or in some cases did not believe the evolutionary context of
> relationships among taxa (i.e., phylogeny) -- and on this point I
> certainly
> agree. However, this evolutionary context does not, as far as I can
> address the point of the paragraph (i.e., the "statement that the
> explosion
> of new biological diversity is a simple arbitrary elevation of
> to
> species").  Except, perhaps, for the biological species concept, I
> see
> how our increase in understanding of evolutionary processes in any way
> helps
> us to distinguish whether two closely-related but consistently
> populations should be regarded as full species, or as subspecies (or
> "geographic variants"). In fact, quite the opposite.  The more I learn
> about
> recent advancements in our understanding of evolutionary speciation,
> murkier (and more arbitrary) the distinction between "species" and
> "subspecies" becomes. Even more than before, it seems that the
> between labeling things as distinct species vs. distinct subspecies is
> "whatever a competent taxonomist decides it is" (and personally, I see
> nothing wrong with this, as this has been for the past quarter of a
> millenium -- and continues to be -- the de-facto definition of
> Now...on to my question for this list.  Years ago I used to closely
> the species concept debates and related philosophical discussions
> nomenclature; but I have lost touch with this area of scientific
> discussion.
> For various reasons, I want to get caught back up again on this issue.
> plan to do the usual searches at the library and Google/etc.; but I
> wondering if anyone on this list could point me to any recent
> that might help characterize where we (as a community) currently stand
> species concepts, and the application of Linnaean nomenclature
> Do the debates rage on?  If not, did most everyone converge on a
> concept, or did they just get tired of arguing about it?  In other
> has a consensus emerged, or is there still a diversity of opinions on
> matter?  Of particular interest to me are publications addressing the
> question of when/how to use trinomials (subspecies) as opposed to
> recognizing full species when applying nomenclature.  I'm primarily
> interested in zoological contexts (broadly  -- insects, various
> vertebrates,
> marine invertebrates, etc.), but am also interested if there have been
> recent publications dealing with these issues in the botanical
> I am, of course, always interested in the opinions of list members,
> what
> I really want to do is catch up on the last 10-15 years of published
> literature on the subject -- so publication citations (particularly
> review articles and others with extensive bibliographies) would be the
> most
> helpful for me. I'm also interested in citations for example
> that either elevated subspecies to full species (e.g., the Sulawesi
> macaques
> alluded to in the Ruedas & Brown letter), or sunk full species into
> subspecies status.
> Many thanks in advance!
> Aloha,
> Rich
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> > [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Geoff Read
> > Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2007 12:32 PM
> > To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
> > Subject: [Taxacom] Replies Re: Economist leader addressed to
> > taxonomists
> >
> > FYI. Economist have put two letters up on the website last
> > night. Ruedas & Brown, and Yanega.
> >
> > http://www.economist.com/debate/theinbox/
> >
> >
> > Geoff
> > --
> >    Geoff Read <g.read at niwa.co.nz>
> >     http://www.annelida.net/
> >     http://www.niwascience.co.nz/ncabb/
> >
> >
> >
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