Other Species Concepts
The biological species concept has its limitations (although it works well for many organisms and has been
very influential in the growth of evolutionary theory). In order to address some of these limitations, many
other species concepts have been proposed, such as:
- Recognition species concept: a species is a set of organisms that can recognize each other
as potential mates.
Even though these two frogs have been prevented from mating, the fact that they recognize each other
as potential mates makes them the same species under the recognition species concept.
- Phenetic species concept: a species is a set of organisms that are phenotypically similar and that
look different from other sets of organisms.
According to this concept, phenotypic similarity is all that matters in recognizing separate species.
Since the frogs depicted here look the sameeven though they are prevented from mating with each otherthey
would be considered the same species according to the phenetic species concept.
- Phylogenetic species concept: a species is a tip on a phylogeny, that is, the smallest set of
organisms that share an ancestor and can be distinguished from other such sets. Under this definition, a
ring species is a single species that encompasses a lot of phenotypic variation.
In this example, Ensatina salamander lineages A and B are
separate species. Each has a common ancestor that individuals of
other species do not. Even though it has diversified a lot, Lineage
C is a single species, according to the phylogenetic
species concept. None of the subspecies of Lineage C has a single
common ancestor separate from the other subspecies.
A researchers choice of species concept often reflects his or her research focus. Making that decision requires
the scientist to commit to a species concept. For most purposes and for communication with the general public, the
biological species concept is used.