Recognizing species, present and past


  • Ian Tattersall

  • Ian Tattersall is a curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History. He has worked on lemur systematics and ecology as well as in paleoanthropology, where his special interest is in hominid diversity and cognitive evolution.



Nobody disputes that nature is meaningfully “packaged” in some way. But debate persists over exactly how (and even whether) the boundaries dividing taxa should (can) be drawn. At one end of the scale, some zealots abstrusely deny real existence to higher taxa.1 At the other, laborers at the taxonomic rock-face confront genuine challenges in recognizing and delineating the species that systematists agree constitute the most fundamental unit of taxonomic analysis.[2, 3]