Evaluating Maclaurin and Sterelny's conception of biodiversity in cases of frequent, promiscuous lateral gene transfer

Biology and Philosophy 25 (4):603-621 (2010)
The recent conception of biodiversity proposed by James Maclaurin and Sterelny was developed mostly with macrobiological life in mind. They suggest that we measure biodiversity by dividing life into natural units (typically species) and quantifying the differences among units using phenetic rather than phylogenetic measures of distance. They identify problems in implementing quantitative phylogenetic notions of difference for non-prokaryotic species. I suggest that if we focus on microbiological life forms that engage in frequent, promiscuous lateral gene transfer (LGT), and their associated reticulated phylogenies, we need to rethink the notion of species as the natural unit, and we discover additional problems with phylogenetic notions of distance. These problems suggest that a phenetic approach based on morphospaces has just as much appeal, if not more, for microbes as they do for multi-cellular life. Facts about LGT, however, offer no new insight into the additional challenge of reconciling units and differences into a single measure of biodiversity.
Keywords Philosophy   Evolutionary Biology   Philosophy of Biology
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-010-9221-7
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L. R. Franklin (2007). Bacteria, Sex, and Systematics. Philosophy of Science 74 (1):69-95.

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