Species as Ranked Taxa

Systematic Biology 58 (1):74-86 (2009)

Because species names play an important role in scientific communication, it is more important that species be understood to be taxa than that they be equated with functional ecological or evolutionary entities. Although most biologists would agree that taxa are composed of organisms that share a unique common history, 2 major challenges remain in developing a species-as-taxa concept. First, grouping: in the face of genealogical discordance at all levels in the taxonomic hierarchy, how can we understand the nature of taxa? Second, ranking: what criteria should be used to designate certain taxa in a nested series as being species? The grouping problem can be solved by viewing taxa as exclusive groups of organisms— sets of organisms that form a clade for a plurality of the genome (more than any conflicting set). However, no single objective criterion of species rank can be proposed. Instead, the species rank should be assigned by practitioners based on the semisubjective application of a set of species-ranking criteria. Although these criteria can be designed to yield species taxa that approximately match the ecological, evolutionary, and morphological entities that taxonomists have traditionally associated with the species rank, such a correspondence cannot be enforced without undermining the assumption that species are taxa. The challenge and art of monography is to use genealogical and other kinds of data to assign all organisms to one and only one species-ranked taxon. Various implications of the species-as-ranked-taxa view are discussed, including the synchronic nature of taxa, fossil species, the treatment of hybrids, and species nomenclature. I conclude that, although challenges remain, adopting the view that species are ranked taxa will facilitate a much-needed revolution in taxonomy that will allow it to better serve the biodiversity informatic needs of the 21st century.
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DOI 10.1093/sysbio/syp011
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References found in this work BETA

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