‘Species’ without species

Stud Hist Philos Sci. 2021 Apr 1;87:72-80. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsa.2021.03.006. Online ahead of print.


Biological science uses multiple species concepts. Order can be brought to this diversity if we recognize two key features. First, any given species concept is likely to have a patchwork structure, generated by repeated application of the concept to new domains. We illustrate this by showing how two species concepts (biological and ecological) have been modified from their initial eukaryotic applications to apply to prokaryotes. Second, both within and between patches, distinct species concepts may interact and hybridize. We thus defend a semantic picture of the species concept as a collection of interacting patchwork structures. Thus, although not all uses of the term pick out the same kind of unit in nature, the diversity of uses reflects something more than mere polysemy. We suggest that the emphasis on the use of species to pick out natural units is itself problematic, because that is not the term’s sole function. In particular, species concepts are used to manage inquiry into processes of speciation, even when these processes do not produce clearly delimited species.

PMID:34111824 | DOI:10.1016/j.shpsa.2021.03.006