A pragmatic approach to the species problem from a paleontological perspective


  • Mary T. Silcox

e-mail: msilcox@utsc.utoronto.ca, office phone: 416-208-5132, fax number: 416-287-7283


The ideal scenario for paleontologists would be for the species they designate to be equivalent to the species recognized for modern animals, in the sense that they were formed as a result of the same evolutionary processes. This would mean, for example, that we could be confident that in combining extant and extinct taxa in phylogenetic analyses we would be dealing with equivalent operational taxonomic units. Notwithstanding the many thousands of pages that have been spent arguing over species concepts, the only concept that has won widespread acceptance for the designation of modern species is Mayr's Biological Species Concept (BSC).1 In fact, whenever we complete a cladistic analysis, we assume reproductive isolation of our terminal taxa because otherwise their similarities could be the product of interbreeding rather than common ancestry. Fundamentally, we all behave as though the BSC is true.