Chapter

Species: A Modest Proposal

Maclaurin James and Sterelny Kim

in What Is Biodiversity?

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780226500805
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226500829 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226500829.003.0002
Species: A Modest Proposal

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This chapter begins by noting two striking facts. First, in practice, most explicit attempts to estimate biodiversity are attempts to estimate species richness. Second, evolutionary theory has been home to a long and continuing debate about the nature of species, a debate that has resulted in a profusion of species concepts. The chapter then confronts the diversity of species concepts more seriously. That diversity flows in part from the profound biological differences between the different branches of the tree of life, and in turn those differences suggest that we have little chance of formulating a one-size-fits-all criterion that would allow us to recognize species across the different branches and thus enable us to measure the overall species richness of a region. One way of responding to the diversity of species concepts, then, is to conclude that the prospects for a species-richness based account of biodiversity are grim both practically and theoretically. It is argued that this is a much-too-pessimistic assessment of species-richness-based accounts of biodiversity.

Keywords: biodiversity; species concepts; evolutionary theory; species richness

Chapter.  5894 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biodiversity and Conservation Biology

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