Why the Phylogenetic Species Concept?-Elementary


  • Quentin D. Wheeler


biodiversity, nomenclature, phylogenetic species concept, phylogeny, species, taxonomy


Although species play a number of unique and necessary roles in biology, none are more important than as the elements of phylogeny, nomenclature, and biodiversity study. Species are not divisible into any smaller units among which shared derived characters can be recognized with fidelity. Biodiversity inventory, assessment, and conservation are dependent upon a uniformly applicable species concept. Species are the fundamental units in formal Linnaean classification and zoological nomenclature. The Biological Species Concept, long given nominal support by most zoologists, forced an essentialy taxonomic problem (what are species?) into a population genetics framework (why are there species?). Early efforts at a phylogenetic species concept focused on correcting problems in the Biological Species Concept associated with ancestral populations, then applying phylogenetic logic to species themselves. Subsequently, Eldredge and Cracraft, and Nelson and Platnick, each proposed essentially identical and truly phylogenetic species concepts that permitted the rigorous recognition of species prior to and for the purposes of phylogenetic analysis, yet maintained the integrity of the Phylogenetic Species Concept outside of cladistic analysis. Such phylogenetic elements have many benefits, including giving to biology a unit species concept applicable across all kinds of living things including sexual and asexual forms. This is possible because the Phylogenetic Species Concept is based on patterns of character distributions and is therefore consistent with the full range of possible evolutionary processes that contribute to species formation, including both biotic and abiotic (even random) factors.