Quantifying the use of species concepts

Curr Biol. 2021 May 10;31(9):R428-R429. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.060.


Humans conceptualize the diversity of life by classifying individuals into types we call 'species'1. The species we recognize influence political and financial decisions and guide our understanding of how units of diversity evolve and interact. Although the idea of species may seem intuitive, a debate about the best way to define them has raged even before Darwin2. So much energy has been devoted to the so-called 'species problem' that no amount of discourse will ever likely solve it2,3. Dozens of species concepts are currently recognized3, but we lack a concrete understanding of how much researchers actually disagree and the factors that cause them to think differently1,2. To address this, we used a survey to quantify the species problem for the first time. The results indicate that the disagreement is extensive: two randomly chosen respondents will most likely disagree on the nature of species. The probability of disagreement is not predicted by researcher experience or broad study system, but tended to be lower among researchers with similar focus, training and who study the same organism. Should we see this diversity of perspectives as a problem? We argue that we should not.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Classification / methods*
  • Dissent and Disputes*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Personnel*
  • Species Specificity
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*