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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Sep 7;276(1670):3185-91. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0582. Epub 2009 Jun 11.

Increasing numbers of bird species result from taxonomic progress, not taxonomic inflation.

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  • National Museum of Natural History, PO Box 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands. george.sangster@nrm.se

Abstract

The impact and significance of modern taxonomy on other fields in biology have been subjects of much debate. It has been proposed that increasing numbers of vertebrate species are largely owing to 'taxonomic inflation'. According to this hypothesis, newly recognized species result from reinterpretations of species limits based on phylogenetic species concepts (PSCs) rather than from new discoveries. Here, I examine 747 proposals to change the taxonomic rank of birds in the period 1950-2007. The trend to recognize more species of birds started at least two decades before the introduction of PSCs. Most (84.6%) newly recognized species were supported by new taxonomic data. Proposals to recognize more species resulted from application of all six major taxonomic criteria. Many newly recognized species (63.4%) were not based exclusively on PSC-based criteria (diagnosability, monophyly and exclusive coalescence of gene trees). Therefore, this study finds no empirical support for the idea that the increase in species is primarily epistemological rather than data-driven. This study shows that previous claims about the causes and effects of taxonomic inflation lack empirical support. I argue that a more appropriate term for the increase in species is 'taxonomic progress'.

PMID:
19520805
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2817124
Free PMC Article
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