Ernst Mayr and the modern concept of species

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 102 (1):6600-6607 (2005)
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Abstract

Ernst Mayr played a central role in the establishment of the general concept of species as metapopulation lineages, and he is the author of one of the most popular of the numerous alternative definitions of the species category. Reconciliation of incompatible species definitions and the development of a unified species concept require rejecting the interpretation of various contingent properties of metapopulation lineages, including intrinsic reproductive isolation in Mayr's definition, as necessary properties of species. On the other hand, the general concept of species as metapopulation lineages advocated by Mayr forms the foundation of this reconciliation, which follows from a corollary of that concept also advocated by Mayr: the proposition that the species is a fundamental category of biological organization. Although the general metapopulation lineage species concept and Mayr's popular species definition are commonly confused under the name "the biological species concept," they are more or less clearly distinguished in Mayr's early writings on the subject. Virtually all modern concepts and definitions of the species category, not only those that require intrinsic reproductive isolation, are to be considered biological according to the criterion proposed by Mayr. Definitions of the species category that identify a particular contingent property of metapopulation lineages (including intrinsic reproductive isolation) as a necessary property of species reduce the number of metapopulation lineages that are to be recognized taxonomically as species, but they cause conflicts among alternative species definitions and compromise the status of the species as a basic category of biological organization.

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