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On the Definition of Species

December 1, 2011

My brother and I were discussing the usefulness of the term species a little while ago. It was sparked when a professor of his mentioned off-hand that the most important classification of organisms is Species. My brother and I both completely disagree. I never really took much biology beyond the basics in high school but have really enjoyed reading Dawkin’s books on evolution much more recently.

My brother is a biology major and he finds it quite annoying how he is really good at taxonomy (the classification of organisms) even though he thinks the system is somewhat, well… rubbish.

When you think about it, “Species” means very little. The only reason that we use the term at all is because evolution is generally only strongly visible over long periods of time. At a glance, all these critters seem to belong to static groups. In reality, though, their gene pools are constantly changing every generation. There is absolutely no way to define when something has become a new species or not. Changes are constantly happening. Is the gene pool for rattus rattus (black rat) exactly the same as when we called it rattus rattus? I sincerely doubt it. Is it a new species yet? Most would say no but does that really mean anything?

Seems to me that Species is the classification that matters the least! Species is just too specific a term to make any sense as time marches on. It is useful for us obviously, but there is little use arguing over when something is a new species, or what species a human ancestor was because the distinction is largely meaningless.

In a strange way, the vague terms can give a better sense of what the organism is on a basic level which will apply for a much longer period of time. They call tell you about body structure and other things common to all organisms in that taxon.

Well, there’s my thoughts on taxonomy. Sorry if it was boring but I’ll be talking about whatever on here and sometimes it will be stuff like this!

I promise it’ll be a game review tomorrow šŸ˜‰


From → Science!, Thoughts

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