[Taxacom] [tdwg] Semantic Web: What is a species?

Peter DeVries pete.devries at gmail.com
Sat Jan 24 19:58:05 CST 2009

Richard you make several good points, and I should state that I see species
as more "real" thanother ranks.

Perhaps this example might help show the distinction I am trying to make.

When a medical entomologist states that a species X, breeds in shallow
ephemeral pools and
has a preference for human blood meals do they mean

The taxonomic hypothesis A. o. has these properties or

the "natural" unit currently called A. o. has these properties ?

I think they mean the second and would benefit if the statements made about
that natural unit
could stay linked to the natural unit species concept over time.

Unfortunately under the "species is the taxonomic hypothesis" system they

Does this help clarify the distinction I am trying to make?


- Pete

On Sat, Jan 24, 2009 at 6:55 PM, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org>wrote:

> > How do others think of species?
> I do not think that species are any more "real" than subspecies, genera,
> and
> families. I believe all of these things are abstract notions representing
> aggregate sets of individual organisms, defined and labelled by humans in a
> way that allows us to communicate with each other with some degree of
> efficiency (though certainly not perfect efficiency).
> Having said that, I think it is highly practical in many cases to treat
> units of "species" as though they were cohesive, singular, "real" entities
> that exist in nature (within a given slice of geologic time) independantly
> of human interpretations, because doing so also facilitates communication.
> This is particularly true in cases characterized by realtively broad
> periods/populations of phenetic and/or genetic stasis, homogeneity and
> consistency, punctuated by relatively small periods/populations of phenetic
> and/or genetic divergence, heterogeneity and spectral forms. I think the
> dangers and problems (nomenclatural instability, poorly supported
> hypotheses, confusing and conflicting lines of evidence) are most evident
> when people attempt to apply assumptions based on the "reality" of species
> to cases that are not so characterized.
> Thus, I do not believe that species are "real", but I believe there are
> contexts in which is it useful to think of them as such.
> I think the practice of identifying individual organisms to species
> concepts
> is mostly independent of whether those concepts represent human-defined
> constructs, or "natural" units that exist in nature independantly of human
> interpretations. Analagous to my view of species, I think that
> morphological
> and genetic characters are properties of organisms, but in many cases it is
> highly practical to treat them as though they are properties of "species",
> given the same caveats described above.
> Aloha,
> Rich
> Richard L. Pyle, PhD
> Database Coordinator for Natural Sciences
>  and Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology
> Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum
> 1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, HI 96817
> Ph: (808)848-4115, Fax: (808)847-8252
> email: deepreef at bishopmuseum.org
> http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/staff/pylerichard.html
> _______________________________________________
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Pete DeVries
Department of Entomology
University of Wisconsin - Madison
445 Russell Laboratories
1630 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706

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