Is Homo sapiens polytypic? Human taxonomic diversity and its implications

Med Hypotheses. 2010 Jan;74(1):195-201. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.07.046. Epub 2009 Aug 19.


The term race is a traditional synonym for subspecies, however it is frequently asserted that Homo sapiens is monotypic and that what are termed races are nothing more than biological illusions. In this manuscript a case is made for the hypothesis that H. sapiens is polytypic, and in this way is no different from other species exhibiting similar levels of genetic and morphological diversity. First it is demonstrated that the four major definitions of race/subspecies can be shown to be synonymous within the context of the framework of race as a correlation structure of traits. Next the issue of taxonomic classification is considered where it is demonstrated that H. sapiens possesses high levels morphological diversity, genetic heterozygosity and differentiation (F(ST)) compared to many species that are acknowledged to be polytypic with respect to subspecies. Racial variation is then evaluated in light of the phylogenetic species concept, where it is suggested that the least inclusive monophyletic units exist below the level of species within H. sapiens indicating the existence of a number of potential human phylogenetic species; and the biological species concept, where it is determined that racial variation is too small to represent differentiation at the level of biological species. Finally the implications of this are discussed in the context of anthropology where an accurate picture of the sequence and timing of events during the evolution of human taxa are required for a complete picture of human evolution, and medicine, where a greater appreciation of the role played by human taxonomic differences in disease susceptibility and treatment responsiveness will save lives in the future.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Classification
  • Ethnicity
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Hominidae / classification*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Phylogeny
  • Species Specificity