[Taxacom] Species Definition?

Kirk Fitzhugh kfitzhugh at nhm.org
Tue May 23 01:04:56 CDT 2017

For some time now I've been mystified by this obsession with species, to the exclusion of what are all  taxa in light of the goal of scientific inquiry. It's been this oversight that has perpetuated scientifically specious approaches such as 'barcoding' and thinking that sequence data have some priority over all other observations.

J. Kirk Fitzhugh, Ph.D.
Curator of Polychaetes
Invertebrate Zoology Section
Research & Collections Branch
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90007
Phone: 213-763-3233
FAX: 213-746-2999
e-mail: kfitzhug at nhm.org

From: Taxacom [taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] on behalf of Richard Pyle [deepreef at bishopmuseum.org]
Sent: Monday, May 22, 2017 10:28 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: [Taxacom] Species Definition?

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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