Concept of species, Biology

Many definitions of species have been offered, but none of them proved to be satisfactory. The definitions did not categorically provide the basis to decide whether two similar groups are distinct species or only sub-species. Again what is the criterion to decide the distinctness of a species? Some tried to specify the degree of difference that would distinguish a species from another. Apart from the difficulty in quantifying such differences, there are also other problems. Certain forms which show very little morphological differences proved to be very distinct species. In other cases, such as Homo sapiens, undoubtedly a single species, different races have pronounced differences. The discontinuity between groups, it appears, depends less on the degree of differences and more on the constancy of differences. Another approach to define species was to distinguish related organisms on their inability to breed. Many definitions of species have relied upon such interspecific sterility and sterility of offsprings, that is hybrid sterility. This proposition also has certain inherent problems. It is not easy to identify cases in which organisms do not interbreed, and those which can breed, but do not do so for certain reasons. At these times, sterility cannot be deemed to be an appiopriatc criterion for defining species. Nevertheless, reproductive isolation or inability to breed has been the commdn element in the definition of species provided by many evolutionary biologists, be it Dobzhansky, Goldschmidt or Ernst Mayr. Reproductive isolation, the discussion of which follows later in this unit, has been the basis for defining the species and speciation.' Such an isolating mechanism becomes a barrier for the flow of genes between related populations and the concept of biological species centres around this phenomenon.

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