From Michael Le Page at New Scientist:
The number of known species of geckos has just jumped upwards, with 15 new species being formally described this week.
The 19 species all live in a small area of Myanmar just 90 by 50 kilometres in size. “That’s the really amazing thing about it,” says Grismer. “They all come from such a small area.”
It’s common to find lots of closely-related species of invertebrates like snails or insects in such a small area, but it is unprecedented for a backboned animal, say Grismer. “For lizards, it is remarkable.”More.
A friend asks why no criteria are offered in the article as to how the scientists determined that the groups of lizards are separate species.
Senior Scientist at the Geoscience Research Institute Tim Standish offers in reply:
Yes, the lack of a real legal standard for a species has been a major problem here in the US. I’m not sure how many species definitions I’ve come across over the years, but not one of them really works. Maybe that is the fundamental problem, but leaving the species definition in the hands of bureaucrats and courts that have preside over cases arising from the Endangered Species Act and NEPA has to be the worst possible outcome. It is incredible that no legal definition of “species” was included in the ESA. One has to wonder whether that was done on purpose or out of stupidity. Someone, it may have been a law professor I had in graduate school, once suggested the ambiguity was on purpose to get the law through with the hope that things would work out afterwards. I’m pretty sure they haven’t.
That prof is probably right. There is little incentive to address the mess because it favours fashionable doomsaying over rigorous classification.
Consider: Once a life form is classified as a species, it is a potential source of income for activists. An industry. Anyone who can chant, carry a sign, lobby politicians, or block traffic can help Save the Planet. Billions go into save-the-planet causes in the form of grants, corporate sponsorships, tax receipts (tax avoidance), etc.
Hey, what could go wrong? Well, for one thing, we could waste effort protecting a “species” that may be a hybrid (cf the red wolf), effort better spent on protecting the parent populations.
We need a rigorous approach to speciation, ideally one based on genome mapping, to focus on conservation that matters.
See also: Red wolf not endangered, a hybrid?