[Taxacom] Semantic Web: What is a species?

Peter DeVries pete.devries at gmail.com
Sat Jan 24 23:07:15 CST 2009

Hi Ken,
I did not mean to have it come across that way. I have noticed that
different communities
have slightly different interpretations of what the same terms mean and I
wonder if this tends
to foster misunderstandings. Both think they share a common meaning but they

No one seems to have noticed but I have had a similar problem that shows up
on the
Culicid page. I am treating Aedes vexans nipponii as a species, although
it is a subspecies. The reason is that this is an introduced variant that
seems to be
maintaining it's uniqueness as it spreads across the country despite
numbers of other native Aedes vexans. It seems to be reproductively isolated
this other population at least in North America, and is acting more like a
real species.

Thanks for the note!

- Pete

On Sat, Jan 24, 2009 at 10:21 PM, Kenneth Kinman <kennethkinman at webtv.net>wrote:

> Hi Pete,
>        I don't think you can generalize by saying that taxonomists have
> a particular view of the reality of species.  I am a taxonomist, not an
> ecologist (or other specialized user of taxonomy).  Yet I agree with you
> that species are more real than subspecies, genera, or families.
>       I certainly understand Richard's view that species are also human
> constructs, but I think that they have an evolutionary cohesiveness that
> makes them more "real" than other taxa.  They certainly can have fuzzy
> boundaries (especially when they have just split from another species),
> and I think that is why I tend to lump more than I split.  When they are
> close to that speciation event (on one side or the other), it is very
> difficult for us humans to know if they have really crossed that line
> for good.
>       In fact, it can't be known with absolute certainty because we
> have no knowledge of future events (contingencies) that could either
> push these marginal cases completely over the species threshold or force
> them back together where gene flow resumes to a significant degree.  I
> think polar bears are a great example of this.  They clearly evolved
> from brown bears, but we just don't know whether there will be any
> significant resumption of gene flow as their breeding areas are forced
> to overlap more and more.
>      I really like to think of species that are close to splitting as
> being sort of like two oxygen atoms in an excited oxygen molecule.  They
> still share those outer electrons that bind them together (= gene flow),
> but something eventually comes along that finally breaks those bonds.
> It's not a perfect analogy, because real species usually don't come back
> together after a certain point (whereas oxygen atoms could do so more
> easily), but it should give one an idea what I am getting at.  Anyway,
> that is my two cents worth.
>         -------Cheers,
>                        Ken Kinman
> P.S.  I think one reason that Richard and I see it somewhat differently
> might be because I study land animals and he studies fish.  I think that
> fish species in the ocean generally have a little more fuzziness to
> them, and that it is perhaps a bit harder for barriers to develop that
> force one species to develop into two.
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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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