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Concepts Of Species

In the broadest sense, a species can be defined as a group of individuals that is "distinct" from another group of individuals. Several different views have been put forward about what constitutes an appropriate level of difference. Principal among these views are the biological-species concept and the morphological-species concept.

The biological-species concept delimits species based on breeding. Members of a single species are those that interbreed to produce fertile off-spring or have the potential to do so. The morphological-species concept (from the ancient Greek root "morphos," meaning form) is based on classifying species by a difference in their form or function. According to this concept, members of the same species share similar characteristics. Species that are designated by this criteria are known as a morphological species.

Organisms within a species do not necessarily look identical. For example, the domestic dog is considered to be one species, even though there is a huge range in size and appearance among the different breeds. For naturally occurring populations of organisms that we are much less familiar with, it is much more difficult to recognize the significance of any character differences observed. Therefore deciding what characteristics should be used as criteria to designate a species can be difficult.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 4Speciation - Concepts Of Species, Speciation Mechanisms: Natural Selection And Genetic Drift, Isolating Mechanisms