Where Do New Primate Species Come From?

A Quick Refresher of Species Concepts:

1. Biological Species Concept (Mayr)

  • A species = “A group of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations which are reproductively isolated from other such groups”



– Objective, testable criteria


– Applies to only sexually-reproducing species

– Hard to test for populations that don’t overlap (i.e. islands)

– Messy when species hybridize in nature but still remain separate

– Impossible to test for fossil species

2. Phylogenetic Species Concept (Cracraft)

  • A species is the “smallest diagnosable cluster of individual organisms within which there is a parental pattern of ancestry and descent”
  • i.e. If you are a separate branch you are a separate species – the need for subspecies is reduced or eliminated



– Works for asexually-reproducing species, fossils

– Can be applied even when populations don’t overlap, or when they produce hybrids in nature


– Too much splitting?

Where “Newly Recognized Species” Come From: 1. Outright Discovery 2. Splitting (includes promotion of subspecies to species)

Primate Species Diversity Over Time:
~1960                                                                                             180  species
Rowe  N  1996:  Pictorial  Guide  to  the  Living  Primates                      234  species
Groves  CP  2001:  Primate  Taxonomy                                                350  species
Redlist (as  of  2012):                                                                        420  species  (634  taxa)
What are the consequences of this increase?
  • Moving closer to a “full” catalog of primates
  • Matching legal definitions, which tend to focus on species – make it easier to get conservation recognition
  • If you study species A – it helps to say that (1) it’s a species, and (2) that it’s endangered


  • Increasing confusion of what a species really is
  • Science seen as biased or politicized
  • Confusion about statistics of endangerment
  • Increasing lack of comparability across taxonomic groups

Ultimately there are benefits and costs to splitting into more subspecies. Primatologists are faced with finding a balance when determining where to make each split. — Post Content – Mitchell Irwin, “Primate Behavior and Conservation” (2014), Northern Illinois University

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s