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94 New Species Described By CA Academy of Sciences 52

Posted by samzenpus
from the what's-in-a-name dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at the California Academy of Sciences traversed four continents and two oceans to uncover 94 new species in 2009, proving that while sometimes in this digital age the world can feel like a small place, much of it has yet to be explored. Among the 94 discoveries were 65 arthropods, 14 plants, 8 fishes, 5 sea slugs, one coral, and one fossil mammal. Why does it matter? As Dr. David Mindell, Dean of Science and Research Collections at the Academy, explained, 'Humans rely on healthy ecosystems, made up of organisms and their environments. Creating a comprehensive inventory of life on our planet is critical for understanding and managing resources. Yet a great many life-forms remain to be discovered and described.'"
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94 New Species Described By CA Academy of Sciences

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  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @10:18PM (#30468524) Homepage

    The definition you refer to is the biological species definition. Normally when that definition is used the offspring need to not just produce viable offspring, but the offspring need to be fertile (thus donkeys and horses are different species since mules are viable but not fertile). However, this definition doesn't work perfectly. For example, a small fraction of mules (I think around 1%) can actually reproduce. So are donkeys and horses different species? The real issue is that biology is messy and nature is inherently fuzzy. Thus, one gets for examples what are called ring species. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_species [wikipedia.org]. In a ring species, one has three populations, A, B and C. Members of A can interbreed to produce fertile offspring with members of B. Members of B can reproduce with members of C. But, members of A cannot produce fertile offspring with members of C. Essentially, under the biological species definition "is the same species" is not a transitive relation. That's bad.

    The definition runs into other problems as well. For example, the definition forces every asexual organism to be its own species by a strict reading. Thus, there have been other proposed definitions of a species.

    Every definition has its own advantages and disadvantages. However none of them is perfect. This is precisely what we would expect: if species lines were easily definable and clear cut, that would be really hard to reconcile with any form of evolutionary theory other than some sort of "hopeful monster" argument, which have been widely discredited. The blurry nature of species boundaries is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for evolution.

    There's been a lot of thought on the general definition of species and whether these definitions are simply labeling conveniences or reflect genuine biological principles. I've been told that John Wilkins' book "Species: A History of the Idea" is a very good primer for these issues. I haven't read it, but I did read Wilkins' PhD thesis and so can say that he's an engaging and thoughtful and fun writer. So this is probably what to read if you want more info.

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