Topic description / abstract:
The species problem – a group of interrelated questions pertaining to the ontological status of species, definitions of the species category and delimitation of species taxa – is one of the most vexing and most passionately debated topics in biology. It has a historical, philosophical and biological dimension. After a short introduction highlighting, among other things, the homonymy of the term “species” and, very briefly, a historical misrepresentation of the history of notions about species, I will focus on the main cause underlying the species problem: nature’s fuzzy boundaries and the mismatch between a discrete ordering system (taxonomy) and a continuous process (evolution). Most importantly, I will give a short overview of the practical ramifications of the species problem. While species taxa are philosophical individuals with extramental reality, there is a fair chance that the species category might be an artefact just like the higher Linnean categories. Nonetheless, it is widely used as a kind of basic currency in many different disciplines, from evolutionary biology and macroecology to conservation biology and environmental policy. This distorts many purportedly quantitative analyses and poses a serious challenge that needs to be addressed if biology is to be a rigorously scientific discipline.
Born in Kiel, Germany, in 1974 to a German mother and a Greek father. I studied biology, history of science and philosophy in Kiel and Jena and graduated with a degree in biology (“Diplom”) from the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Jena. I got a PhD in zoology in 2005 and my habilitation for zoology and evolutionary biology in 2009 from the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel. Since 2011 I have been head of the Mammal Collection at the Natural History Museum in Vienna. My main research interests are intraspecific diversity, phylogeography and population/conservation genetics in mammals, particularly deer, and birds as well as the history and theory of evolutionary biology, systematics and taxonomy, with a special focus on species concepts and the species problem.