Reading it is most instructive so here goes: A small grey songbird, the coastal California gnatcatcher has been “ the epicenter of a legal brawl for nearly 28 years” since it was listed under the Endangered Species Act in the U.S.:
Some relevant facts:
Found along the Baja California coast, from down south in El Rosario, Mexico to Long Beach, Calif., its natural habitat is the rapidly declining coastal sagebrush that occupies prime, pristine real estate along the West Coast. When this particular gnatcatcher, Polioptila californica, was granted protection, the region’s real estate developers went to court to get it delisted.
Central to their argument, which was dismissed in a federal court, was whether it was an independent species or just another population of a more widely found gnatcatcher. This distinction would dictate its threatened status. Evolutionary biologists have developed a new approach to genomic species delineation that improves upon current methods and could impact similar policy in the future.
This approach is based on the fact that in many groups of organisms it can be problematic to decide where one species begins and another ends.
“In the past, when it was challenging to distinguish species based on external characters, scientists relied on approaches that diagnosed signatures in the genome to identify ‘breaks’ or ‘structure’ in gene flow indicative of population separation. The problem is this method doesn’t distinguish between two populations separated geographically versus two populations being two different species,” said Jeet Sukumaran, computational evolutionary biologist at San Diego State University and lead author of a study published May 13 in PlOS Computational Biology.
“Our method, DELINEATE, introduces a way to distinguish between these two factors, which is important because most of the natural resources management policy and legislature in our society rests on clearly defined and named species units.”San Diego State University, “A new approach to identify genetic boundaries of species could also impact policy” at ScienceDaily
Many issues are worth raising, including whether “species” is a clear enough concept to warrant being a measure, as opposed to, say, role in an ecology. When is it wise to intervene to preserve something? Goals driven by passions are often misguided and wasteful.
The main point to glean from all this is that “speciation” may be — at best — a fluid concept and at worst, a talking point intended to drive Darwinism home. Reasonable conservation causes are not well served by this stuff. They may — understandably — alienate the public.
The paper is open access.
See also: A physicist looks at biology’s problem of “speciation” in humans