Biodiversity Science ›› 2016, Vol. 24 ›› Issue (9): 1014-1019.doi: 10.17520/biods.2016243

Special Issue: Red List of China’s Vertebrates

• Orginal Article • Previous Article     Next Article

A brief review on the historical changes in the concept of species

Ping Xie*()   

  1. Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan 430072
  • Online:2016-10-09
  • Xie Ping

This is a mini-review on the historical changes in the concept of species. Biologists use different methods or criteria to discriminate species, leading to the formation of different species concepts, e.g. biological species, morphospecies, ecological species, evolutionary species, phylogenetic/cladistic species, or their combinations. These concepts respectively reveal a specific profile of the species’ attributes, as well as reflecting the objective existence of these creatures as different species, but not being satisfied with everyone. For eukaryotes, reproductive isolation (incapable of reproducing fertile offspring) should be the key for two populations to differentiate into two different species, no matter how much they differ morphologically. The mechanisms underlying such isolation might be geographical, behavioral, or otherwise. Reproductive isolation is certainly accompanied by some morphological or genetic changes that are often used as criteria by taxonomists or molecular evolutionary biologists to distinguish species, although these attributes may not be associated with reproductive isolation itself. Extinct species known only from fossils are impossible to be classified taxonomically according to reproductive isolation. The exact definition of the term “species” is still controversial, as a species concept based on reproductive isolation is usually not applicable, but a usable species definition (e.g. morphospecies) is regarded to be artificial.

Key words: species concept, biological species, morphospecies, reproductive isolation

[1] Barton NH, Briggs DEG, Eisen JA, Goldstein DB, Patel NH (2007) Evolution. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York.
[2] Bowler PJ (1989) Evolution: the History of an Idea. University of California Press, Berkeley.
[3] Chen SX (1983) Species concept and taxonomic principles. Science in China Series B, 4, 315-320. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[陈世骧 (1983) 物种概念与分类原理. 中国科学B辑, 4, 315-320.]
[4] Chen YY, Zhang W, Huang SY (1982) Speciation in Schizothoracid fishes of Lake Lugu. Acta Zoologica Sinica, 28, 217-225. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[陈宜瑜, 张卫, 黄顺友 (1982) 泸沽湖裂腹鱼类的物种形成. 动物学报, 28, 217-225.]
[5] Darwin C (1872) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, 6th edn. John Murry, London.
[6] Dawkins R (1986) The Blind Watchmaker. Norton & Company, Inc., New York.
[7] Dobzhansky T (1951) Genetics and the Origin of Species. Columbia University Press, New York and London.
[8] Dupré J (2001) In defence of classification. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 32, 203-219.
[9] Gregg JR (1950) Taxonomy, language and reality. The American Naturalist, 84, 419-435.
[10] Hong DY (2016) Biodiversity pursuits need a scientific and operative species concept. Biodiversity Science, 24, 979-999. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[洪德元 (2016) 生物多样性事业需要科学、可操作的物种概念. 生物多样性, 24, 979-999.]
[11] Lovejoy A (1982) The Great Chain of Being, a Study of the History of an Idea. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
[12] Magner LN (1994) A History of the Life Science. Marcel Dekker, New York.
[13] Mayr E (1982) The Growth of Biological Thought—Diversity Evolution & Inheritance. Belknap Press, Cambridge.
[14] Mayr E (2001) What Evolution Is? Basic Books, New York.
[15] Offenberger M (1999) Von Nautilus und Sapiens. Einführung in die Evolutionstheorie. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Munich, Germany.
[16] Shi J (2010) Evolution! Evolution? The War Behind Darwin. Liaoning Education Press, Shenyang. (in Chinese)
[史钧 (2010) 进化!进化?达尔文背后的战争. 辽宁教育出版社, 沈阳.]
[17] Xie P (2016) Critical Reviews and Reconstruction of Evolutionary Theories. Science Press, Beijing. (in Chinese)
[谢平 (2016) 进化理论之审读与重塑. 科学出版社, 北京.]
[1] Xiaolong Zhang,Lihua Yang,Ming Kang. Post-pollination reproductive isolation of sympatric populations of Primulina eburnea and P. mabaensis (Gesneriaceae) [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2017, 25(6): 615-620.
[2] De-Yuan Hong. Biodiversity pursuits need a scientific and operative species concept [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2016, 24(9): 979-999.
[3] Jianquan Liu. “The integrative species concept” and “species on the speciation way” [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2016, 24(9): 1004-1008.
[4] Dexing Zhang. Why is it so difficult to reach a consensus in species concept? [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2016, 24(9): 8-15.
[5] Yijian Yao,Yi Li. Species concepts commonly used in fungal taxonomy [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2016, 24(9): 1020-1023.
[6] Zhenna Qian,Qianwan Meng,Mingxun Ren. Pollination ecotypes and herkogamy variation of Hiptage benghalensis (Malpighiaceae) with mirror-image flowers [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2016, 24(12): 1364-1372.
[7] Haomin Lyu,Renchao Zhou,Suhua Shi. Recent advances in the study of ecological speciation [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2015, 23(3): 398-407.
[8] Zhonghu Li,Zhanlin Liu,Mali Wang,Zengqiang Qian,Peng Zhao,Juan Zhu,Yixin Yang,Xiaohao Yan,Yinjun Li,Guifang Zhao. A review on studies of speciation in the presence of gene flow: evolution of reproductive isolation [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2014, 22(1): 88-96.
[9] Peng Li, Yibo Luo. Reproductive biology of an endemic orchid Cypripedium smithii in China and reproductive isolation between C. smithii and C. tibeticum [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2009, 17(4): 406-413.
[10] ZHOU Hong-Zhang. Species and species diversity [J]. Biodiv Sci, 2000, 08(2): 215-226.
Full text



[1] Jiang Wu-sheng and Li De-sheng. Twenty Important Plant Science Journals Covered by the Science Citation Index[J]. Chin Bull Bot, 1997, 14(01): 59 -63 .
[2] Xianli Meng;Yong Li;Baodong Liu*. Developmental Patterns and Taxonomic Significance of Gametophytes of Five Species in Aspidiaceae[J]. Chin Bull Bot, 2008, 25(03): 298 -306 .
[3] Fusuo Zhang Zhenling Cui Jiqing Wang Chunjian Li Xinping Chen . Current status of soil and plant nutrient management in China and improvement strategies.[J]. Chin Bull Bot, 2007, 24(06): 687 -694 .
[4] WU Xiang-Yu. Enjoy Teaching Which Benefits Teacher As Well As Students[J]. Chin Bull Bot, 2003, 20(04): 501 -504 .
[5] . [J]. Chin Bull Bot, 1994, 11(专辑): 79 .
[6] LIU Wei Hua ZHANG Gui You DAI Yao Ren. Detection and Quantification of Melatonin in Leaves,Flowers and Seeds of Baikal Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) by HPLC[J]. Chin Bull Bot, 2003, 20(01): 75 -79 .
[7] . [J]. Chin Bull Bot, 1994, 11(专辑): 12 .
[8] . [J]. Chin Bull Bot, 1994, 11(专辑): 25 .
[9] ZHANG Li-Ping;LIN Bo-Nian and SHEN De-Xu. The Study on Sexual Distinction of Dioecism in Vitis[J]. Chin Bull Bot, 1998, 15(04): 63 -67 .
[10] Guoliang Qi?, Xueling Su?, Guoqi Zheng, Juan Yang, Han Bao, Jun Wang. Effect of Meteorological Factor on Fruit Growth and Accumulation of Polysaccharides in Lycium barbarum[J]. Chin Bull Bot, 2016, 51(3): 311 -321 .