The role of subspecies in obscuring avian biological diversity and misleading conservation policy

Robert M. Zink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

372 Scopus citations

Abstract

Subspecies are often used in ways that require their evolutionary independence, for example as proxies for units of conservation. Mitochondrial DNA sequence data reveal that 97% of continentally distributed avian subspecies lack the population genetic structure indicative of a distinct evolutionary unit. Subspecies considered threatened or endangered, some of which have been targets of expensive restoration efforts, also generally lack genetic distinctiveness. Although sequence data show that species include 1.9 historically significant units on average, these units are not reflected by current subspecies nomenclature. Yet, it is these unnamed units and not named subspecies that should play a major role in guiding conservation efforts and in identifying biological diversity. Thus, a massive reorganization of classifications is required so that the lowest ranks, be they species or subspecies, reflect evolutionary diversity. Until such reorganization is accomplished, the subspecies rank will continue to hinder progress in taxonomy, evolutionary studies and especially conservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)561-564
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume271
Issue number1539
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 22 2004

Keywords

  • Conservation
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Reciprocal monophyly
  • Subspecies

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