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Monday, June 22, 2009

Taxonomic Inflation

The number of new species discovered is growing every year, although we often hear more about threatened extinctions. In many cases this is because of new observations leading to the identification of new species. For the most part, these are not entirely new organisms—they are species that are closely related to existing species.

Given the ongoing battles between lumpers and splitters in the taxonomic community, one wonders whether the discovery of new species isn't just due to the elevation of varieties to the level of species. For example, there are many varieties of giraffe and some people propose that the current species, Giraffa camelopardalis, should be split into several species. This depends on your definition of species.

Christopher Taylor of Catalogue of Organisms reviews a recent paper that addresses the problem [Keeping an Eye on Inflation]. Turns out that the recent redefinition of species doesn't correlate with the increase in splitting so that doesn't seem to explain taxonomic inflation.

Unfortunately Chris doesn't answer the most important questions.
  • Is it true that God has an inordinate fondness for beetles or is it just overzealous insect taxonomists?

  • If you split G. camelopardalis then why not split Homo sapiens as well?

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