Danish Logo

indeks Home .indeks. Menu Species definition. Rhododendron, Danish Chapter

What is a species

Eksample Cheetah http://bioinquiry.biol.vt.edu/bioinquiry/Cheetah/cheetahpaid/cheetahhtmls/species.html Press
Fish There are several definitions of species. (Morphological-Evolutionary- biological - Genotypic cluster (DNA sequences)) http://www.adera.be/fish/whatspecies.html Press
In birds From http://menura.cse.unsw.edu.au:1080/1997/06/msg00178.html (dead link) What definition for species is used in the taxonomy of birds? The notion of a species is a much vexed question of which there are wildly differing opinions. One of the best known species defintion is Ernst Mayr's biological species concept. In short: "A species is a group of interbreeding natural populations that is reproductive isolated from other such groups" This reproductive isolation need not be absolute. I'm not sure how you decide when interbreeding becomes significant but Mayr believes his approach is almost unambiguous for birds. Anyway, his book "Towards a New Philosphy of Biology" is worth reading. Even for birds, I'm sure you can find plenty of people to disagree with Mayr. In fact my theory, is that just as (supposedly) no two snowflakes are alike, no two biologists have exactly the same view of the species concept. You can get a good taste of this in the introduction to Christidis and Boles' The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. They describe various problems delinating species and cite differing views and never, as far as I can see, say actually what species concept they have used :-) If you want a very different views talk to a botanist. Reproductive-based definitions are much more problematic for many plants. Or if you want a real headache add the dimension of time and think about defining chronospecies. If you want an easy life, you can adopt an authority-based species concept, e.g its a species if Boles & Christidis say it is. Andrew Taylor
In birds In the old days, the production of fertile(NB) hybrid offspring would immediately establish that two taxa are races,not distinct species. But more modern thinking prefers to look at the frequency of events rather than the yes/no dimension. Consider it this way. 0 is a small number, and 1 is closer to 0 than it is to 100. So if you had an area of sympatry, in which two taxa occurred together, and 99 out of every 100 pairings were between the same taxon, with the other 1 between the two taxa,even if the offspring of that 1 pairing were fertile, modern thinking would say that the two taxa had effectively developed reproductive isolating mechanisms and should be considered distinct species. Associate Professor John M. Penhallurick Canberra, Australia
For a long time, ornithologists almost universally used the biological species concept (BSC). This definition of "species" is based on species being reproductively isolated from each other. Under this definition, distinctive geographical forms of the same "kind" of bird are usually lumped as one species. This is because the geographic forms interbreed (or probably would, if they had the chance) where they intersect on the map. The problem with this definition is slightly different, geographically-isolated, forms rarely present us with "tests" of their willingness to interbreed. According to to adherents of the BSC, if the forms are only slightly different, they would probably interbreed if given the chance. Thus, they should be considered the same species. However, proponents of the BSC also say that because two things rarely interbreed (and produce viable hybrids) doesn't mean they belong to the same species. For example, wolves and coyotes (there's no educated disagreement that these are different species) can mate and have fertile and healthy pups. The phylogenetic species concept (PSC) says that diagnosable geographic forms of the same basic "kind" of bird should be treated as distinct species. This is because these forms have evolved separately, and have unique evolutionary histories. The PSC is gaining favor because there is no worry about whether slightly-different geeographic forms might interbreed. If they don't, for whatever reason (for example, migration to different breeding areas), they are full species. Obviously, the PSC is less restrictive than the the BSC. There would be many more species of birds under the PSC than under the BSC.
Rhododendron- comments: As within subgenera they (different species) do freely interbreed in the wild and in gardens. And they are defined by what they look like and not whether they breed. K Cox.