What’s it about?
The Endangered Species Act exists to protect species from extinction. However, the means by which we define ‘species’ can affect what groups of organisms get this protection. The ‘textbook’ definition of species (populations of organisms that interbreed naturally and have living and fertile offspring) is what most people think of. This is known as the Biological Species Concept. But what about sub-species, or isolated populations of organisms (such as the Florida panther)?
Modern phylogenetics, including cladistics, allows species to be defined using molecular data and focuses more on dividing organisms into the smallest, distinct populations, which are likely to be reproductively isolated.
Why does it matter?
How we designate species affects whether or not they can be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Why did I read this?
I assigned this paper to my EES 270 students this year to read. It’s a good paper.