Species Concepts and Phylogenetic Theory: A Debate

Species Concepts and Phylogenetic Theory: A Debate

Species Concepts and Phylogenetic Theory: A Debate

Species Concepts and Phylogenetic Theory: A Debate

Synopsis

No question in theoretical biology has been more perennially controversial or perplexing than "What is a species?" Recent advances in phylogenetic theory have called into question traditional views of species and spawned many concepts that are currently competing for general acceptance. Once the subject of esoteric intellectual exercises, the "species problem" has emerged as a critically important aspect of global environmental concerns. Completion of an inventory of biodiversity, success in conservation, predictive knowledge about life on earth, management of material resources, formulation of scientifically credible public policy and law, and more depend upon our adoption of the "right" species concept. Quentin D. Wheeler and Rudolf Meier present a debate among top systematic biology theorists to consider the strengths and weaknesses of five competing concepts. Debaters include (1) Ernst Mayr (Biological Species Concept), (2) Rudolf Meier and Rainer Willmann (Hennigian species concept), (3) Brent Mishler and Edward Theriot (one version of the Phylogenetic Species Concept), (4) Quentin Wheeler and Norman Platnick (a competing version of the Phylogenetic Species Concept), and (5) E. O. Wiley and Richard Mayden (the Evolutionary Species Concept). Each author or pair of authors contributes three essays to the debate: first, a position paper with an opening argument for their respective concept of species; second, a counterpoint view of the weakness of competing concepts; and, finally, a rebuttal of the attacks made by other authors. This unique and lively debate format makes the comparative advantages and disadvantages of competing species concepts clear and accessible in a single book for the first time, bringing to light numerous controversies in phylogenetic theory, taxonomy, and philosophy of science that are important to a wide audience. Species Concepts and Phylogenetic Theory will meet a need among scientists, conservationists, policy-makers, and students of biology for an explicit, critical evaluation of a large and complex literature on species. An important reference for professionals, the book will prove especially useful in classrooms and discussion groups where students may find a concise, lucid entr¿e to one of the most complex questions facing science and society.

Excerpt

The rapid rise of phylogenetic theory since Hennig's seminal 1966 book has at an unprecedented pace changed the way that systematists and taxonomists do their work, as well as the quality of their hypotheses and classifications and their utility to all biology. Because species occupy a pivotal position in all aspects of biology in general and phylogenetic systematics in particular, it is critically important that the concept of species be compatible with these profound advances in phylogenetic theory. To this scientific significance, add also a growing awareness of the potential for mass species extinctions in the immediate decades ahead (e.g., Wilson, 1985, 1992) and the dire need for changes in conservation biology that minimize negative impacts of the “biodiversity crisis” while conserving as much biological diversity as possible. Even the simplest scientific responses to the biodiversity crisis, such as establishing what kinds and how many organisms live on planet earth or comparing the relative diversity of two taxa or areas, depend in no small measure upon general agreement about what a species is. Surprisingly, and in spite of literally thousands of scientific papers relevant to the subject, there are more species concepts in popular usage today than at any point in the past century, and the consensus in zoology about the Biological Species Concept has begun to unravel. An aggressive search for a species concept that is consistent with phylogenetic theory has begun.

This volume evolved from long-term and unresolved differences of opinion with regard to the nature of species between the two co-editors. After many fruitless and sometimes loud discussions, we thought it desirable to expand such argumentation to include several additional concepts of species prevalent in contemporary biological literature. It was our belief that a face-to-face debate among proponents of the various concepts was likely to produce more heat than light, and that a “virtual” debate format that would combine the point/counterpoint advantages of a debate with the dispassionate composition of statements in the comfort of one's own office and in the presence of the literature resources that can back up positions was preferable.

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