[Taxacom] Species Definition?

Stephen Thorpe stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz
Tue May 23 01:00:37 CDT 2017

I don't think that "a species is what a community of taxonomists says it is" can be called a "definition" of species. What you actually mean, I think, is that the definition of a species is what a community of taxonomists says it. Then a species is what a definition of species says it is. Otherwise, species hypotheses are testable only by questionaire! So, it is hard to make sense of "the old definition" "falling apart" in the light of DNA technology, unless we have a statement of "the old definition". For me, I still go along with species are populations which do not freely interbreed (to a significant extent) under natural conditions. It is not directly testable, but morphological gaps, particularly genitalic ones, are good evidence for distinct species. Those who fail to grasp this will be inclined to substitute some other definition.


On Tue, 23/5/17, Richard Pyle <deepreef at bishopmuseum.org> wrote:

 Subject: [Taxacom] Species Definition?
 To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
 Received: Tuesday, 23 May, 2017, 5:28 PM
 No, wait!  Please don't automatically
 delete this message based on the
 subject line!
 Still with me?  Cool.
 I was curious if anyone read this:
 And if so, whether you agree with the
 subtitle, "As DNA techniques let us
 see animals in finer and finer
 gradients, the old definition is falling
 apart"?  We all know that people
 are (ab)using genetic data to draw
 ever-finer lines among groups of
 organisms and labelling them with
 Linnean-style names (binomens, no
 less). But it's not clear to me whether
 this represents an evolving consensus
 on what we mean by "species", or if it
 is really more reflective of using a
 shiny new toy to boost one's CV/tenure
 For the record, as far as I'm
 concerned, the de-facto definition of a
 "species" hasn't changed since Darwin's
 time, paraphrased as "a species is
 what a community of taxonomists says it
 is".  But my question is about
 whether the baseline for what the
 community "says it is" has changed/is
 changing)?  Or, in the long run
 will we retain roughly the same
 within-taxon-group gestalt that we've
 generally had for a while now?
 And if the consensus really is
 evolving, is that a good thing (more
 recognition of biodiversity)? Or a bad
 thing (increasing incongruence with
 historical knowledge)?  My vote is
 to keep the best of both worlds and have
 a massive increase in the use of
 trinomials, but I imagine that statement
 will be seen by many as a troll.
 Richard L. Pyle, PhD
 Database Coordinator | Associate
 Zoologist | Dive Safety Officer
 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
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 Ambiguity for 30 Years, 1987-2017.

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