conservation, biodiversity, extinction, species concept


Species are defined using a variety of different operational techniques. While discussion of the various methodologies has previously been restricted mostly to taxonomists, the demarcation of species is also crucial for conservation biology. Unfortunately, different methods of diagnosing species can arrive at different entities. Most prominently, it is widely thought that use of a phylogenetic species concept may lead to recognition of a far greater number of much less inclusive units. As a result, studies of the same group of organisms can produce not only different species identities but also different species range and number of individuals. To assess the impact of different definitions on conservation issues, we collected instances from the literature where a group of organisms was categorized both under phylogenetic and nonphylogenetic concepts. Our results show a marked difference, with surveys based on a phylogenetic species concept showing more species (48%) and an associated decrease in population size and range. We discuss the serious consequences of this trend for conservation, including an apparent change in the number of endangered species, potential political fallout, and the difficulty of deciding what should be conserved.

Original Publication Citation

The Quarterly Review of Biology 79.2(Jun 24): 161-179.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


University of Chicago Press




Life Sciences



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Biology Commons