Consilience and a Hierarchy of Species Concepts: Advances Toward Closure on the Species Puzzle


  • Richard L. Mayden


biodiversity, consilience, evolution, hierarchy, philosophy, speciation, species, species concepts, systematics, taxonomy


Numerous concepts exist for biological species. This diversity of ideas derives from a number of sources ranging from investigative study of particular taxa and character sets to philosophical aptitude and world view to operationalism and nomenclatorial rules. While usually viewed as counterproductive, in reality these varied concepts can greatly enhance our efforts to discover and understand biological diversity. Moreover, this continued "turf war" and dilemma over species can be resolved if the various concepts are viewed in a hierarchical system and each evaluated for its inherent level of consilience. Under this paradigm a theoretically appropriate, highly consilient concept of species capable of colligating the abundant types of species diversity offers the best guidance for developing and employing secondary operational concepts for identifying diversity. Of all the concepts currently recognized, only the non-operational Evolutionary Species Concept corresponds to the requisite parameters and, therefore, should serve as the theoretical concept appropriate for the category Species. As operational concepts, the remaining ideas have been incompatible with one another in their ability to encompass species diversity because each has restrictive criteria as to what qualifies as a species. However, the operational concepts can complement one another and do serve a vital role under the Evolutionary Species Concept as fundamental tools necessary for discovering diversity compatible with the primary theoretical concept. Thus, the proposed hierarchical system of primary and secondary concepts promises both the most productive framework for mutual respect for varied concepts and the most efficient and effective means for revealing species diversity.