Biodiv Sci ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (8): 23140.  DOI: 10.17520/biods.2023140

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“Species” versus “individuals”: Which is the right target for biodiversity conservation?

Hong Du1,2,*()   

  1. 1. College of Marxism, Chongqing Normal University, Chongqing 401331
    2. Science and Technology Education Research and Communication Centre, Chongqing Normal University, Chongqing 401331
  • Received:2023-05-05 Accepted:2023-08-24 Online:2023-08-20 Published:2023-09-06
  • Contact: *E-mail:


Background & Aims: Biodiversity conservation has both scientific and ethical attributes, and it is faced with two basic questions: first, what do we want to conserve, and second, what should we prioritize for conservation? Genes, species, ecosystems and other levels are important targets for biodiversity conservation, and among them, the conservation of species is the most crucial. Species diversity is linked to genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity, which is the foundation of all biodiversity conservation. However, the concept of species and the relationship between species and individuals are still controversial, yet declining biodiversity situation requires urgent action. Therefore, our goal is to define an operational species concept for conservation, rather than a standardized and universal species definition, in order to mitigate the dilemmas that species definition and species delimitation have brought to conservation work.
Perspectives & Conclusion: All species are undergoing speciation and the degree and timing of speciation varies widely. These processes make it impossible to develop uniform criteria for species classification, thus making species and individuals inappropriate targets for biodiversity conservation; the target should instead be “species diversity”. Starting from the goal of diversity, the species that are the objects of conservation must be independently evolving units, with both morphological distinctions and genetic differences. Only when the two basic requirements of morphological differences and genetic differences are met simultaneously can the essential goal of diversity be realized. This delineation also allows for the existence of hybrids or back-cross individuals that do not belong to the two species groups. At the same time, as a conservation target, there must be an operable and relatively reasonable method to define species, and integrated taxonomy may be an attractive path. Biological taxonomists should, on the basis of traditional classification theories and methods, comprehensively utilize multidisciplinary knowledge such as morphology, genetics, cytology, ecology, molecular biology and other cutting-edge technologies like DNA barcoding, artificial intelligence image recognition, and modern machine learning, to provide more evidence for the definition and delimitation of species. In so doing, this will allow for the identification of the most solid basic knowledge to support biodiversity conservation.

Key words: biodiversity conservation, species, individuals, species diversity, integrative taxonomy