But in the current mess, how would we know? From Noah K.Whiteman at BigQuestionsOnline:
Counting the number of herbivorous insect species that scientists have identified reveals a remarkable possibility: insects that feed on living plants may be the most species-rich group of organisms ever to have evolved in the history of life on the planet. This includes extinct lineages such as the Palaeodictyoptera — among the first herbivorous insects to have evolved. Only unnamed microbes might be more diverse (although this hypothesis is controversial). Parents in some future colony on Mars could someday read to their children the bedtime story The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and with that story illustrate the essential nature of the two most diverse life forms on our planet: herbivorous insects and flowering plants.
Chemical coevolution between plants and herbivorous insects has produced not only a vast range of drugs that have been exploited by humans for millennia but also a profusion of species. This, then, may help us understand how plants and the insects that eat them — which constitute most species of life on earth — evolved. Modern genomics, coupled with classic evolutionary theory and natural history observations allow us to see how this process unfolds.More.
The article sounds like a Darwinian time warp. We don’t hear of the many problems about how a species is even determined, let alone about how hybridization and horizontal gene transfer fuzz the picture. Are there really one thousand “species” of cichlid in Lake Malawi?
Why are there so many species? Well, first thing, maybe there aren’t. One problem is that speciation has a meaning for Darwinians (or neo-Darwinians or whatever) that it lacks for others. It allegedly demonstrates that Darwinism (natural selection acting on random mutation) all by itself produces thousands of distinct new species. So the concept must be maintained even when, not only is the evidence contrary, but the idea, as they propound it, it has largely ceased to cohere or make any sense.
Until we know how much reversible plasticity there is in genomes, we can’t know how many species there are. But we can have biologists trading numbers around with no serious science basis.
By the way, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a great board book for small kids (three years?). They tend to “get” that the caterpillar is eating its way through the book.
See also: Twice as many bird species in the world as formerly thought? Have the species’ ability to hybridize and produce fertile offspring been tested? One asks because, in general, the concept of speciation is currently a mess.
Nothing says “Darwin snob” like indifference to the mess that the entire concept of speciation is in
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