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Chapter 1: Subspecies Represent Geographically Partitioned Variation, A Gold Mine of Evolutionary Biology, and a Challenge for Conservation - Las Subespecies Representan Variación Estructurada Geográficamente, una Mina de Oro de la Biología Evolutiva y un Desafío para la Conservación
Vol. 67, No. 1 (April 2010), pp. 6-23
Published by: American Ornithological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/om.2010.67.1.6
Page Count: 18
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Abstract In this review I summarize the history of the subspecies concept and the major debates and issues surrounding its use, with an emphasis on ornithology, in which the concept originated. The study of subspecific variation in birds has been an important driving force in the development of evolutionary biology. Subspecific study has also been essential in the description and preservation of biodiversity. Although controversy has surrounded the concept of subspecies since its inception, it continues to play an important role in both basic and applied science. I cover 10 relevant issues that have been largely resolved during this 150-year controversy, although not all are widely appreciated or universally accepted. These include nomenclature, sampling theory, evolutionary biology, and the heterogeneity of named subspecies. I also address three big unresolved questions and some of the philosophy of science related to them: What are subspecies, how do we diagnose them, and what does subspecific variation mean? Discordance between genotypic and phenotypic data at these shallow evolutionary levels should be expected. The process of diagnosing states that exist along a continuum of differentiation can be difficult and contentious and necessarily has some arbitrariness; professional standards can be developed so that such diagnoses are objective. Taxonomies will change as standards do and as more data accrue. Given present evidence, our null hypothesis should be that subspecific variation probably reflects local adaptation. In looking forward, it seems assured that geographically partitioned variation—and the convenient label "subspecies"—will continue to play an integral role in zoology.
Ornithological Monographs © 2010 American Ornithologists' Union