One species or four? Yes!⋯and, no. Or, arbitrary assignment of lineages to species obscures the diversification processes of Neotropical fishes

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Abstract

Species are fundamental units in many biological disciplines, but there is continuing disagreement as to what species are, how to define them, and even whether the concept is useful. While some of this debate can be attributed to inadequate data and insufficient statistical frameworks in alpha taxonomy, an equal part results from the ambiguity over what species are expected to represent by the many who use them. Here, mtDNA data, microsatellite data, and sequence data from 17 nuclear loci are used in an integrated and quantitative manner to resolve the presence of evolutionary lineages, their contemporary and historical structure, and their correspondence to species, in a species complex of Amazonian peacock "bass" cichlids (Cichla pinima sensu lato). Results suggest that the historical narrative for these populations is more complex than can be portrayed by recognizing them as one, two, or four species: their history and contemporary dynamics cannot be unambiguously rendered as discrete units (taxa) at any level without both choosing the supremacy of one delimitation criterion and obscuring the very information that provides insight into the diversification process. This calls into question the utility of species as a rank, term, or concept, and suggests that while biologists may have a reasonable grasp of the structure of evolution, our methods of conveying these insights need updating. The lack of correspondence between evolutionary phenomena and discrete species should serve as a null hypothesis, and researchers should focus on quantifying the diversity in nature at whatever hierarchical level it occurs.

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Willis, S. C. (2017). One species or four? Yes!⋯and, no. Or, arbitrary assignment of lineages to species obscures the diversification processes of Neotropical fishes. PLoS ONE, 12(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172349

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