Ecology Evolution Genomics Intelligent Design speciation

Researchers: Paleontologists are naming too many species

Spread the love
Ichthyosaurus life restoration - Artwork by James McKay (2)
extinct ichthyosaurs/art by James McKay

What? Someone noticed? From Manchester University:

A comprehensive new study looking at variations in Ichthyosaurus, a common British Jurassic ichthyosaur (sea-going reptile) also known as ‘Sea Dragons’, has provided important information into recognizing new fossil species.

Professor Judy Massare (SUNY College at Brockport, NY, USA) and Dean Lomax (The University of Manchester) have studied hundreds of specimens of Ichthyosaurus. After their latest research project the pair urge caution in naming new fossil species on the basis of just a few fragmentary or isolated remains.

For their research Prof Massare and Lomax focused on one particular part of the Ichthyosaurus skeleton, the hindfin (or back paddle). The purpose was to evaluate the different forms among the six-known species of Ichthyosaurus. They examined 99 specimens which could provide useful information.

Early in their research, they found different types of hindfin that initially appeared to represent different species. However, the more specimens they examined the more ‘variation’ they uncovered, such as differences in the size and number of bones. They determined that a single hindfin alone could not be used to distinguish among species of Ichthyosaurus, but that a particular variation was more common in certain species.

“As lots of new fossil species are named every year, in some cases, such as with fragmentary or limited remains, the decision to name a new species should be considered very carefully.” Added Lomax. More.

Paper. (paywall)

Darwin’s creed was The Origin of Species, so it was natural for biologists to cluster around the concept, no matter how unsatisfactory in the light of genomics today, and to deplore anyone who happens to notice the mess. The mess puddles, pools, and widens.

But there is also the political impact when we are considering living species: If any group of reproducing life forms can be declared a separate “species,” it is protected under jobs-creating environment legislation, for which many well-meaning persons will be marchin’, marchin’, irrespective of any evolutionary, genomic, or ecological facts. With which they do not, perhaps, overly trouble themselves.

Yes, the “Save-the” posters almost design themselves… but what of the real ecology? Who takes the trouble to understand it? The money today may very well be in not understanding it.

See also: Once again: The pygmy marmoset is two “species”

Shaking the horse family tree

At Nature: Much insect research could be impossible to replicate

Elephant family tree needs a rethink?

Speciation ain’t what it used to be. Neither is certainty about evolution.

New butterfly has 46 chromosomes, like a human, not the expected 68, like a close relative

DNA: Giraffes are four separate species?

More mammal species than we thought? But what defines a mammal species?


Nothing says “Darwin snob” like indifference to the mess that the entire concept of speciation is in 

Then there are Lazarus species

14 Replies to “Researchers: Paleontologists are naming too many species

  1. 1
    Allan Keith says:

    The definition of species for living organisms is fairly straight forward for metazoans. Individuals that can and do reproduce and produce viable (i.e., fertile) offspring. This means that animals like lions and tigers are considered separate species, even though they can produce viable offspring.

    This definition can also be applied, although more difficulty, to single celled eucaryotes like ciliates. However, when it comes to bacteria, the distinction is far more difficult because of the prevalence of HGT and the lack of sexual reproduction as we see it in eucaryotes.

    Palaeontology is even more difficult because there is no way to determine if something can breed with something else. There are plenty of examples where different specimens had been classified as different species only to be found out to be specimens of different sex, or different body parts from the same animal. Add to this the fact that palaeontology is looking at changes in structure over time; there is no way of determining if an individual from time A can reproduce with an individual from the same lineage at time B. Add to this the fact that palaeontologists suffer the same flaws as the rest of us do: ambition; ego; envy; etc.. The rivalry between Marsh and Cope, two famous palaeontologists, makes for very good reading.

  2. 2

    Looks like we might have a new hybrid species to list soon. Check out the link below.

  3. 3
    OldAndrew says:

    Is that like when the human family tree gets rearranged (again) because someone finds a piece of a tooth or a skull fragment that ‘sheds new light on where humans evolved’?

    How many kids get braces because a tooth grows in funny or with a slightly wrong shape? Unless humans have always had perfect teeth, I’m sure that the teeth of 10,000 dead homo sapiens could be used as evidence of at least a few hundred new human ancestors.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    Reminds me of the confusion Darwinists have about dogs,

    Great Dane to Chihuahua: How Do We Know Dogs Are the Same Species? – By Laura Geggel – February 26, 2016
    If aliens visited Earth tomorrow, would they realize that dogs — from the spotted dalmatian, to the giant Great Dane, to the tiny Chihuahua — are all the same species?
    Forget aliens, said Jack Tseng, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. If we hadn’t actually bred dogs ourselves, even humans would have a hard time determining that a Cavalier King Charles spaniel and a wolfhound are related, he said.
    “If you were a biologist who comes from a society that never had any dogs associated with humans and you looked at these dogs, you would immediately think that these were different species,” Tseng told Live Science.,,,
    Instead, genetic analyses tell us that all dogs are the same species, Tseng said.
    But, by those standards, dogs and gray wolves (Canis lupus) are also the same species, as the two share most of the same genes. There’s still debate about whether to call dogs Canis lupus familiaris, suggesting that they are a subspecies of the wolf, or Canis familiaris, a distinct species from the wolf, Tseng said.,,,
    , domestic dogs can also breed successfully with wolves — a fact that supports the idea of classifying dogs in the same species as wolves, Tseng said.,,,

    Dawkins even infamously claimed that Dogs are proof for Darwinian evolution:

    Interview with Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig – Mar 22, 2014
    Excerpt: Richard Dawkins and many other evolutionary biologists (claim) that dog breeds prove macroevolution. However, virtually all the dog breeds are generated by losses or disturbances of gene functions and/or developmental processes. Moreover, all the three subfamilies of the family of wild dogs (Canidae) appear abruptly in the fossil record.

    The Dog Delusion – October 30, 2014
    Excerpt: In his latest book, geneticist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig of the Max Planck Institutes in Germany takes on the widespread view that dog breeds prove macroevolution.,,, He shows in great detail that the incredible variety of dog breeds, going back in origin several thousand years ago but especially to the last few centuries, represents no increase in information but rather a decrease or loss of function on the genetic and anatomical levels.
    Michael Behe writes:
    “Dr. Lönnig shows forcefully that one of the chief examples Darwinists rely on to convince the public of macroevolution — the enormous variation in dogs — actually shows the opposite. Extremes in size and anatomy come at the cost of broken genes and poor health. Even several gene duplications were found to interfere strongly with normal growth and development as is also often the case in humans. So where is the evidence for Darwinian evolution now?”
    The science here is indeed solid. Intriguingly, Lönnig’s prediction from 2013 on starch digestion in wolves has already been confirmed in a study published this year.,,,

    A few more notes:

    DNA Study Reveals the One and Only Wolf Species in North America – July 2016
    Excerpt: Bridgett M. vonHoldt of Princeton University and her colleagues sequenced the genomes of 12 gray wolves, six Eastern wolves, three red wolves and three coyotes, as well as the genomes of dogs and wolves from Asia.
    Dr. vonHoldt and her colleagues found no evidence that red wolves or Eastern wolves belonged to distinct lineages of their own. Instead, they seem to be populations of gray wolves, sharing many of the same genes.
    What really sets Eastern wolves and red wolves apart, the researchers found, is a large amount of coyote DNA in their genomes.
    The new study revealed that coyotes and North American wolves shared a remarkably recent common ancestor. Scientists had previously estimated their ancestor lived a million years ago, but the new study put the figure at just 50,000 years ago.
    “I could not have put money on it being so recent,” Dr. vonHoldt said.,,,
    Dr. vonHoldt and her colleagues found that the genomes of Eastern wolves that lived in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario were half gray wolf and half coyote. Red wolves are even more mixed: Their genomes are 75 percent coyote and only 25 percent wolf.
    Some wolf experts were startled by the finding,,,

    Russian geneticist repeats dog domestication with foxes in just fifty years
    – September 16, 2016
    (—A Russian geneticist, the BBC is reporting, replicated the process that led to the domestication of the dog, with foxes, over the course of just fifty years. Curious about the means by which dogs became domesticated, Dmitry Belyaev began a breeding program in the late 1950’s aimed at replicating the process using foxes.
    Foxes cannot be tamed, the conventional thinking goes—you can raise them in your house, feed them like babies and try to cuddle with them, but their wild nature will eventually win out—they will become unruly and eventually unwelcome pets. But what if the wildness was bred out of them? That is what Belyaev wondered, so he set to work on a very long term project—one that was very simple. He and his intern, Lyudmila Trut, wandered around Russia searching for foxes to start their experiment. Foxes were chosen based on their behavior in the presence of humans. Those that showed slightly more tolerance of humans were brought back to their Novosibirsk lab to serve as the start group. From there, the foxes were mated, and once again, those cubs that showed the most tolerance for humans were kept as part of the experiment while the others went on to become fur coats.
    This process was repeated for a half-century—the research pair found that within just a few generations, the foxes had begun to lose their wildness and mistrust of humans. The fourth generation, they reported, showed traits that we see in modern dogs, such as tail wagging, seeking human contact and licking people. Over the course of 50 years, the foxes became friendly, their behavior nearly indistinguishable from domestic dogs. They changed physically, too; their ears drooped and their legs and snouts became shorter and their heads got wider. And it was not all on the outside—their adrenal glands became more active, resulting in higher levels of serotonin in their brains, which is known to mute aggressive behavior.,,,

    Also of related interest, the problem of paleontologists improperly naming new species based on incomplete bone fragments is a fairly bad problem for paleontologists searching for supposed ‘missing links’ to humans (especially since the temptation to become famous by being the one paleontologist to discover the ‘next’ missing link for humans is so great).

    For instance, Lucy,

    “The australopithecine (Lucy) skull is in fact so overwhelmingly simian (ape-like) as opposed to human that the contrary proposition could be equated to an assertion that black is white.”
    Lord Solly Zuckerman – Chief scientific advisor to British government and leading zoologist

    “The australopithecines known over the last several decades from Olduvai and Sterkfontein, Kromdraai and Makapansgat, are now irrevocably removed from a place in a group any closer to humans than to African apes and certainly from any place in a direct human lineage.”
    Charles Oxnard, former professor of anatomy at the University of Southern California Medical School, who subjected australopithecine fossils to extensive computer analysis;

    Israeli Researchers: ‘Lucy’ is not direct ancestor of humans”; Apr 16, 2007
    The Mandibular ramus morphology (lower jaw bone) on a recently discovered specimen of Australopithecus afarensis closely matches that of gorillas. This finding was unexpected given that chimpanzees are the closest living relatives of humans.,,,its absence in modern humans cast doubt on the role of Au. afarensis as a modern human ancestor.

    “these australopith specimens can be accommodated with the range of intraspecific variation of African apes”
    Nature 443 (9/2006), p.296

    Also of note, Dr. John Sanford mentions the battle between ‘lumpers and splitters’ in the first part of his book ‘Contested Bones’

    “Contested Bones” (Part 1 – Prologue and Chapter 1 “Power of the Paradigm”) 1-27-2018 by Paul Giem
    Contested Bones (by Christopher Rupe and John Sanford) is the result of four years of intense research into the primary scientific literature concerning those bones that are thought to represent transitional forms between ape and man. This book’s title reflects the surprising reality that all the famous “hominin” bones continue to be fiercely contested today—even within the field of paleoanthropology.

  5. 5
    News says:

    Allan Keith at 1: You have entirely missed the point. There is nothing systematic about how species have gotten classified. Obviously, no one wants to admit that now. The mess puddles and pools and is becoming a river.

  6. 6
    OldAndrew says:

    Humans are another example.

    We find two nearly-identical fish that live at different depths and call it speciation. Same for two seagulls that live fifty miles apart. We call it speciation because we need evidence of speciation to support Darwinism.

    Then we have humans, which exhibit significantly different physical characteristics that appear to result from geographic isolation.

    (To be clear, I don’t think we’re all different species. Hopefully that’s obvious.)

    Anyone who calls the fish different species and calls the gulls different species but hesitates to call different human races species is an intellectually dishonest hypocrite.

    If the fish and gulls are evidence of speciation then races of humans are the most obvious examples. It should be in every textbook.

    Anyone reading daily nonsense claims of speciation should remember this and see through how transparently dishonest, hypocritical, and irrational they are. If someone brings up one of these examples of speciation in debate, the next question should be, “Which species of human are you? Which species was your mother? Which species was your father?”

  7. 7
    goodusername says:


    Darwin’s creed was The Origin of Species, so it was natural for biologists to cluster around the concept, no matter how unsatisfactory in the light of genomics today, and to deplore anyone who happens to notice the mess. The mess puddles, pools, and widens.

    Can you give a single example of anyone being “deplored” for noticing how messy the concept of species often is? Biologists have “clustered” around the concept centuries before Darwin, and have always known that it’s messy. That’s why there are so many varying definitions of “species”, none of which are applied consistently. Do you think it would be any different without Darwinism?

    There is nothing systematic about how species have gotten classified. Obviously, no one wants to admit that now.

    No one?? I’d say closer to everyone.

    The “species problem” is one of the most famous and discussed subjects in biology. Everyone knows that subjectivity is involved in names species, particularly with paleontology.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    “The “species problem” is one of the most famous and discussed subjects in biology. Everyone knows that subjectivity is involved in names species, particularly with paleontology.”

    Apparently “everyone’ does not include the mainstream media and museums which constantly hype ‘subjectively’ named new species, and disregard numerous objective rebuttals by leading experts of those subjective interpretations for supposedly ‘new’ species:

    For prime example, Lucy,,, 35:00 minute mark

    Review of “Contested Bones” (Part 6 – Chapter 6 “Australopithecus afarensis”) 3-10-2018 by Paul Giem

  9. 9
    OldAndrew says:

    Google “examples of speciation.” Speciation is a problem except when it’s evidence of Darwinism. Then suddenly it’s so clear-cut and obvious that only science deniers could miss it.

    Critics of evolution often fall back on the maxim that no one has ever seen one species split into two. While that’s clearly a straw man, because most speciation takes far longer than our lifespan to occur, it’s also not true. We have seen species split, and we continue to see species diverging every day.

    It’s funny how a whole article about speciation in Scientific American aiming to beat Darwinism deniers over the head neglects to mention that it’s one of the most famous and discussed subjects in biology. Apparently it depends on which reality is convenient at the time.

  10. 10
    News says:

    goodusername at 7, thanks!: “The “species problem” is one of the most famous and discussed subjects in biology. Everyone knows that subjectivity is involved in names species, particularly with paleontology.”

    Subjectivity is not science and the fact that the problem is “discussed” is not evidence of any useful result. Decade follows decade of inaction. Thanks for supporting the need for reform, even if you oppose it.

  11. 11
    goodusername says:


    Subjectivity is not science and the fact that the problem is “discussed” is not evidence of any useful result. Decade follows decade of inaction. Thanks for supporting the need for reform, even if you oppose it.

    How many planets are there? 9? 8? Should we include Kuiper belt objects and say dozens (thus far)? Or create a new category and say they are “dwarf planets”? There is always going to be such subjectivity when we try to categorize certain objects in nature. That’s just the way it is because “planet” is a human construction.

    But saying that there’s subjectivity involved in the concept of “planets” doesn’t remove the problem of how planets form, and even if we knew exactly how planets form, there’s still every reason to believe that the subjectivity would still exist. No amount of “reform” (whatever that means) is going to help.

    I think we can all agree that there are different kinds of life-forms in nature. There are birds and fish and mammals. And then there are different kinds of birds, and different kinds within each kinds, etc. There’s subjectivity with regards at what point to stop and say “that’s a species.” Debates between the lumpers and splitters have existed for centuries, as has the problem of finding a single definition of “species” that can be applied consistently.

    I’m not sure how you think this all ties in with Darwin. Indeed, he called his book “Origin of Species”, but his theory is independent of the debates between the splitters and lumpers (I’m not even sure which camp he was in, but if anything, probably the lumpers. His arch-nemesis, Louis Agassiz, is probably the all time king of the splitters.)
    His theory is that interbreeding populations tend to split into two or more interbreeding populations, and from that point begin diverging. Over time the separate populations will become what naturalists tend to call races, or varieties, or sub-species, and from there separate species. It doesn’t really matter (as far as his theory goes) as to which point one calls the variations “species”. Splitters would say that the new species formed earlier, while lumpers will say they formed later. But it’s all irrelevant as far as his theory goes.

    A similar issue exists in the field of linguistics.

    The object of inquiry in linguistics is human language, in particular the extent and limits of diversity in the world’s languages. One might suppose, therefore, that linguists would have a clear and reasonably precise notion of how many languages there are in the world. It turns out, however, that there is no such definite count—or at least, no such count that has any status as a scientific finding of modern linguistics.

    The reason for this lack is not (just) that parts of the world such as highland New Guinea or the forests of the Amazon have not been explored in enough detail to ascertain the range of people who live there. Rather, the problem is that the very notion of enumerating languages is a lot more complicated than it might seem. There are a number of coherent (but quite different) answers that linguists might give to this apparently simple question.

    Linguistics also has it’s lumpers and splitters, and for the same reason – the gradual way in which languages form. Because of this, one will get a a wide variety of answers from different linguists as to how many languages exist.
    I doubt, however, that anyone has a problem with linguists who write books with titles like “Origin of Languages” despite not being able to completely resolve the issues of defining what a language is, because everyone recognizes that languages evolve gradually and thus it’s always going to be problematic as to when a dialect becomes a language (there an adage that “a language is a dialect with an army and navy”). Both the lumpers and splitters generally agree on how/why populations of speakers diverge. The issue of the origin of languages, and how exactly to define and recognize languages, are largely independent.

    The same goes with biology. In fact, even if Young Earth Creationism were proven tomorrow, all the same problems with defining and recognizing “species” would still exist.

  12. 12
    bornagain77 says:

    Old Andrew at 9:

    It’s funny how a whole article about speciation in Scientific American aiming to beat Darwinism deniers over the head neglects to mention that it’s one of the most famous and discussed subjects in biology. Apparently it depends on which reality is convenient at the time.

    Excellent observation!,,, It seems that the only unlimited plasticity ever witnessed for Darwinian evolution is in Darwinists themselves when they practice their usual ‘excuse making’ for their religion.

  13. 13
    DATCG says:

    #9, OldAndrew agree,

    Problem with Darwinist “species” is it means everything for Darwinist and yet nothing in meaningful, scientific rigor for macro-evolutionary events.

    Makes for great story-telling and grand extrapolations of just-so stories.

    An example of great story-telling is Darwin’s example in 1st Edition of his book, Origin of Species.

    He stated:

    “I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.”

    Well, well, then. Rendered is a powerful tool of Darwinism.

    So species rendering by Darwin is played up as a big Darwinian dream you can imagine happened in the great past over long periods of time – rendered – by natural selection.

    And yet today we know Natural Selection is considered weak and not a novel form of innovation for macro events.

    But, according to Darwin’s Rendering Tool, if Finches are a “new species,” we know macro-events can happen.

    Given enough time and right conditions, Bears can be rendered to “monstrous” whales. So says Darwin.

    But gradualism one day recedes the next day. Not by small gradual mutations, but via prescriptive epigenetic regulation in the case of finches. Regulatory controls and features take over in times of stress, famine, drought. And can happen within a few generations.

    Were/Are Darwin’s finches a new species?
    Based on what criteria? Darwin’s? Neo-Darwinist? Today’s Macro-Evolutionist of any variety?

    Who in the end says clearly? Darwinist?

    Well folks, Darwin finches are not just evidence of evolution, but Icons of Evolution.

    Q. What kind of evolution? Darwinian? Neo-Darwinian?

    What do you mean what kind? Evolution is Evolution. Only a fool does not believe in evolution.

    Q. But, does this give evidence of macro-evolutionary events over long periods of time based upon gradual steps and natural selection?

    A. Well you see, the bear _______________________________
    ______________________ being rendered, then became a monstrous whale. And that’s just-how it happened. Just look at these pictures rendered by our resident render artist.

    Are Darwin’s Finches – Icons of Macro-Evolution, or Natural Variation?

    For expert opinions:

    Darwin’s Finches – One Species or Many?

    In this corner: No New Species Robert Zink:

    The textbooks are wrong, says ornithologist Robert Zink of the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History. The ground finches may seem to be different species, at least with superficial comparison, but they’re stuck in what he calls Sisyphean evolution. “Species kind of get started, but .?.?. they never make it to the top of the hill,” Zink says.

    In a recent paper in Biological Reviews, Zink helps make the case. “None of these ‘species’ are distinct,” he says. The various ground finches don’t differ significantly in ways that usually differentiate bird species, such as plumage patterns or song. Unlike with discrete species, these features aren’t stable and can vary over just a few generations, depending on weather and food availability.

    Sequences of their nuclear and mitochondrial DNA show little variation and none of the telltale signs that suggest distinct species.

    The circumstances in the Galapagos — frequent inter-island travel due to short distances between islands and interbreeding — prevent the finches from truly forming distinct species. It makes more sense to classify the birds as a single species of ground finch with ecologically driven variations, Zink says.

    Sounds reasonable.

    In this corner: Yes, Species, Species Everywhere

    Princeton-based husband-and-wife evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant disagree. They started studying finches in 1973 and have long held that ground finches represent “species before speciation is complete.” (In fact, that’s how they titled one of their papers.) It’s natural that the nascent species would show genetic resemblance, Peter Grant says. Nonetheless, the traditional view that the ground finches make up six species holds up on the basis of breeding behavior and songs.

    “It makes no sense to us as biologists studying populations in nature to combine them all into one species,” says Grant. Despite rare hybridization, the finch populations remain behaviorally and morphologically distinct and, according to Grant, are on their way to becoming separate species.

    Well, time will tell, long time, gradually, step by step….
    screech…………… skid marks, wait,

    New species can develop in as little as two generations, Galapagos study finds

    “The novelty of this study is that we can follow the emergence of new species in the wild,” said B. Rosemary Grant, a senior research biologist, emeritus, and a senior biologist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

    “Through our work on Daphne Major, we were able to observe the pairing up of two birds from different species and then follow what happened to see how speciation occurred.”

    So what is species again? According to scientist who support the finches as on their way to a distinct species it is:

    1) when a “different species” arrives
    2) mates with a “different species”
    3) creating a new “species” from two “different species”

    Right, well jolly good!

    That and many years on an island is useful for a good tan and publication in support of what? Origin of species? Darwinian? Neo-Darwinian? Macro-Darwinian? Macro-Neo-Darwinian?

    This seems more like Icons of Different Species can Mate with Different Species to make Different Species, but still be Finch Species.

    So Finch species, if they arrive on time at an island rendezvous with another finch can replicate. It’s taken since 1973 to figure this out – 45 years.

    Forty-five years of rendering a new species, according to the Grants, but not according to ornithologist Robert Zink. It’s just another variation within the gene pool.


  14. 14 says:
    1. “Biologic species” does not have a satisfactory definition. Most often “species” is defined as “the largest group of organisms in which two individuals can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction”. The fertility “barrier” is however arbitrary, inadequate for closely related species, and irrelevant to the vast group of asexually reproducing organisms. Since organisms do not come with tree of life place cards, not just species classification but also taxonomy in general is more or less arbitrary as shown by grouping issues and the frequent revisions to its structure.

    2. Why keep “species” or why not redefine the concept if failed? Redefining would likely have been done long time ago if better criteria were available, while discarding the concept of “species” is opposed by those fond of Darwin’s “Origin of Species”. Those that believe the “reproductive isolation” story point to minor adaptations, which they call “speciation” (implying stability) and then ask us to extrapolate these small changes into the dramatic transmutations imagined yet never observed by Darwin or his followers. This is a classic trick – employed extensively by magicians, cinematographers and con artists among others – where one thing is shown and the brain then “sees” another that is not there.

Leave a Reply