Fish species – how and why

Research paper by Sven O. Kullander

Indexed on: 01 Dec '99Published on: 01 Dec '99Published in: Reviews in fish biology and fisheries


It is argued, with selected examples from freshwaterfish systematics, that species should be viewed as anexpression of self-perpetuated clustered variation innature, conforming to the phylogenetic speciesconcept. The importance of species lies in thefunctional and structural significance of theirdiagnostic characters. Species can be nested by theircharacters into a tree diagram (phylogeny) orhierarchical alignment structure (classification) ofcharacter distribution, which may be taken to reflectevolution, the unifying theory of organismaldiversification. The phylogenetic species concept,which emphasizes recognition of a pattern ofvariation, describes better than any other proposedconcept the units called species by systematists.Other concepts are based on processes and normally donot permit recognition of particular taxa. Specieshave unique histories, and speciation may proceed bydifferent mechanisms. Whereas it may be postulatedthat speciation entails an irreversible change in thegenetic structure of taxa, recognized by phenotypicexpression and apparently also maintained to a largeextent by selection for a particular phenotype,species recognition must remain independent ofassumptions about species history and spatialdistribution. Species are monophyletic taxa and thespecies category does not differ significantly inphylogenetic regard from other systematic categories.Species as such are not necessarily evolutionaryunits. It is recommended to apply species names withreference to the diagnostic characters of the speciesand to abandon the type specimen described by theInternational Code of Zoological Nomenclature as anomenclatural reference unit.