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Defining species in an advanced technological landscape


  • Edward E. Louis Jr.,

  • Runhua Lei

  • Edward E. Louis, Jr.'s major research focus over the past fifteen years has involved characterization of the biodiversity and biogeography of Madagascar's unique fauna and flora. Although the majority of his research involves lemur biodiversity, Dr. Louis also has ongoing projects involving amphibians, carnivores, leaf-tailed geckos, orchids, and chameleons. Email:

  • Runhua Lei's current research includes the conservation genetics of captive animals, phylogeny and phylogeography of lemurs, estimating the divergence time of lemur species, and tracing the origin of lemurs based on mitogenomics.

Corresponding author: Tel (402)738–2004; Fax (402)733-0490; Email:


The answer to the proffered question, “What is a species?” is considered one of the fundamental issues of biological science, as well as one of the most polarizing and sometimes acrimonious problems. Dozens of species concepts have been defined, but none are universal for implementation across all taxa.[1] Within the past thirty years, the ability to analyze DNA data has progressed to the point that multiple methodologies can be simultaneously applied to the same evolutionary questions. The use of restriction fragment length polymorphisms, microsatellites, and mitochondrial (mtDNA) and nuclear DNA (nucDNA) sequence data has unarguably changed how we look at diversity and intensified the concept debate through the proliferation of species descriptions.[2, 3] Over the past two decades, Madagascar's biodiversity has gone through a tremendous taxonomic expansion by the elevation of subspecies to species and through novel descriptions, especially within the nocturnal lemurs.[4] With the tremendous continuous loss of habitat, exponential human population growth, and stochastic changes predicted over coming decades, elucidating the earth's biodiversity will never be more important than now. Here, we examine species concepts and their attendant criteria. We predict how technological advances will alter, improve and, we hope, fully consolidate the unity of thoughts related to this central topic of evolutionary biology and its numerous interconnected disciplines.