[Taxacom] New book on species

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Mon Sep 7 20:47:33 CDT 2009

Hi Kip, thanks for that. Richard seems determined to keep the discussion of this issue off-list, but since what you have just said is so highly relevant, I copy and paste part of my most recent reply. I think the benefit of a "discussion group or list" is that specific issues like this can be discussed on their own merits, without having to go away and read an entire book first, which we probably don't have time to do anyway! I would welcome your thoughts on my words below:

If you were to describe two new species, unrelated to anything else, and you believed that together they form a monophyletic group, you could choose to put them as one or two genera, depending on taste! It would be a subjective decision of the kind you describe.
If, however, you had specimens from two populations, and you believed that there were no reproductive barriers in place (only geographical ones), then you would have no choice but to consider them one species, not two! Assuming a biological species concept, anyway!
Another taxonomist might claim to use a morphological species concept instead of a biological one, and say "well I know there is just the tiniest difference in colour, and nothing else, but it is perfectly consistent between populations, so I am going to call them distinct species!". Whether or not use of the term "population" betrays a covert use of the biological species concept, I am not entirely sure! I don't see morphospecies as a sensible option precisely because males and females (and immatures) of a single biological species can be quite distinct morphospecies, so it seems to be somehow impossible to break free of a biological species concept! It seems to be almost true by definition that if you are concerned with "species" (in some general sense = kinds) in biology, then you must use the biological species concept! But as soon as you do, your "opinions" about species in biology become fallible beliefs ...


From: taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Kipling (Kip) Will [kipwill at berkeley.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, 8 September 2009 1:35 p.m.
To: TAXACOM at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] New book on species

For those of you interested in “species” I would like to draw your
attention to a new book by John S. Wilkins,

“Species, A history of the Idea”

I found it provided a very clear debunking of the new synthesis notion
that taxonomists were ever operationally essentialists and it provides
us a much improved starting point for our current discussion of
biological species and their reality, discussions of the type that we
see on this list so frequently.


p.s. Full disclosure… Obviously it is a UC press publication and I am on
the editorial board for this series.  But I really do think it is worth

Kipling W. Will
Associate Professor/Insect Systematist
Associate Director,Essig Museum of Entomology

mail to:
137 Mulford Hall
ESPM Dept.- Organisms & Environment Div.
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720

phone 510-642-4296
fax 510-643-5438


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