September 27, 2005

Exploring the avian biodiversity of Africa with different species concepts

A recent debate over the usefulness and relevance of the widely used Biological Species Concept, based on reproductive isolation, versus the Phylogenetic Species Concept, which is centred around identifying the smallest group with common ancestry, has raised concerns that changing nomenclatural foundations might result in the appearance of previously unrecognized patterns of biodiversity.

A recent study, published in the journal Ecography evaluates this suggestion on a continental scale for the first time, using a dataset that encompasses the entire bird fauna of sub-Saharan Africa. Identifying 1,572 biological species defined in the African 'Atlas of Speciation' and 2,098 phylogenetic species, the study found that large-scale patterns of species richness and endemisms were remarkably robust to changes in species concepts. By in-depth analysis, the study was able to document further complexity within long-recognized centres of endemism.

Both species concepts agree on their view on endemism, with certain areas acting as "species pumps" and large intervening areas being characterised by a predominance of widespread species, which distribute themselves in accordance with contemporary environmental conditions.

On the World Wide Web:

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.