Classifying a species

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Information about Classifying a species

Published on May 8, 2014

Author: BasicBiology



The process of defining a species isn't as straight forward os most people would think. Classifying organisms into species is completely a human concept and nature doesn't always like to play by our rules.

Defining a species What defines two organisms as being two different species? A case study with black and pied stilts

Speciation of the black and pied stilts • Generally excepted that they are two distinct species • Black stilt - Himantopus novaezelandiae • Pied stilt – Himantopus himantopus

Background to their relationship • Believed to have originated from two separate colonisations from Australia pied stilts to New Zealand. • Black stilts - potentially 1 million years ago • Pied stilts – possilby as recent as 150 years ago • Differences – plumage (black vs black & white) – other morphological difference – behavioural differences.

Background to their relationship • IUCN red list status  Black stilt – critically endangered  Pied stilt – least concern • Black stilts mate for life • Due to a very low population size - between 58-78 adult birds - will sometimes mate and hybridize with pied stilts.

Definitions of species • Biological species concept – species defined as populations of individuals that can produce viable offspring. – Probably the most well-known definition of a species – Hybridisation? • Morphological species concept – classified as the same species if organisms fit into the same morphological criteria. – Classical definition going back to the days on Carl Linnaeus – the father of taxonomy

Definitions continued • Recognition species concept – species defined as organisms that recognise each other as potential mates. • Not well accepted due to hybridisation and phylogenetic • Phylogenetic species concept – species are a group of organisms that share a single common ancestor. • Concordance species concept – takes into account a range of diagnostic markers such as breeding, morphology, DNA markers. • Plus many more...

How do pied and black stilts fit in? • Morphological species concept: • The two species are similar in many ways. • Main difference in is the colour of plumage. • Black stilts - larger body size, longer beaks, shorter legs, longer wings. • But all are expected adaptations to a colder climate.

How do pied and black stilts fit in? • Phylogenetic species concept: • Pied stilt and black stilt have been shown to have two different haplotypes for mtDNA • i.e. two genetically different species • Mitochondrial genome <0.001% of the nuclear genome • Potentially not very representative • Concordance species concept: • The combination of morphological, mtDNA, isozyme and plumage markers indicate two distinct species

What does this all mean? • Firstly, as I said at the start – it is generally accepted that they are two distinct species. • It seems the phylogenetic and concordance species concepts hold more weight than other species definitions. • Illustrates how difficult it can be to classify a species. • Scratches the surface of the difficulties encountered by taxonomists.

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