Will overcrowding sink Noah's ark?

Defining species, and implications for conservation

source: Bob Holmes and Jeff Hecht
New Scientist no 2422, November 22 2003
starts p 6, 2 pages long

It has become more difficult to define species, with new discoveries, and disagreements as to whether a particular group of animals constitutes a species. This makes conservation decisions difficult, because it is unclear what we should conserve. Elephants and gorillas, for example, could have more species than previously thought. In constrast, other animals, such as the red wolf, are no longer considered to be species. The red wolf is likely to have resulted from a cross between a coyote and a wolf.

Paul Hebert, biologist from Guelph University, Canada, is tackling the problem by focusing on one gene, cytochrome C oxidase I, in order to identify species. There is disagreement on what constitutes a species, and it is more complex than whether offspring can be fertile. Species can be seen as lineages that have evolved separately, a view that could more than double the number of species.