KLI Colloquia are informal, public talks that are followed by extensive dissussions. Speakers are KLI fellows or visiting researchers who are interested in presenting their work to an interdisciplinary audience and discussing it in a wider research context. The presentation language is English.

Event Details

Frank Zachos
KLI Colloquia
The Species Problem – Practical Ramifications of a Theoretical Conundrum
2017-11-28 15:00 - 2017-11-28 16:30
Organized by KLI

Topic description / abstract:

The species problem – a group of interrelated questions pertaining to the ontological status of species, definitions of the species category and delimitation of species taxa – is one of the most vexing and most passionately debated topics in biology. It has a historical, philosophical and biological dimension. After a short introduction highlighting, among other things, the homonymy of the term “species” and, very briefly, a historical misrepresentation of the history of notions about species, I will focus on the main cause underlying the species problem: nature’s fuzzy boundaries and the mismatch between a discrete ordering system (taxonomy) and a continuous process (evolution). Most importantly, I will give a short overview of the practical ramifications of the species problem. While species taxa are philosophical individuals with extramental reality, there is a fair chance that the species category might be an artefact just like the higher Linnean categories. Nonetheless, it is widely used as a kind of basic currency in many different disciplines, from evolutionary biology and macroecology to conservation biology and environmental policy. This distorts many purportedly quantitative analyses and poses a serious challenge that needs to be addressed if biology is to be a rigorously scientific discipline.


Biographical note:

Born in Kiel, Germany, in 1974 to a German mother and a Greek father. I studied biology, history of science and philosophy in Kiel and Jena and graduated with a degree in biology (“Diplom”) from the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Jena. I got a PhD in zoology in 2005 and my habilitation for zoology and evolutionary biology in 2009 from the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel. Since 2011 I have been head of the Mammal Collection at the Natural History Museum in Vienna. My main research interests are intraspecific diversity, phylogeography and population/conservation genetics in mammals, particularly deer, and birds as well as the history and theory of evolutionary biology, systematics and taxonomy, with a special focus on species concepts and the species problem.