The interplay of species concepts, taxonomy, and conservation: lessons from the Hawaiian avifauna

Studies in Avian Biology
By:  and 


  • The Publications Warehouse does not have links to digital versions of this publication at this time
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core


The Hawaiian Islands, with their unique geological history and geographic position, provide an excellent natural laboratory in which to evaluate currently competing biological (BSC) and phylogenetic (PSC) concepts of the species. Although the BSC as historically applied in archipelagic situations is shown to be flawed in producing overlumped polytypic species, it nevertheless remains the preferable concept for most practical purposes. A review of the taxonomic history and species limits in Hawaiian birds under both concepts reveals that, when properly applied, the BSC yields a species total remarkably close to that produced under the PSC, contrary to what many proponents of the latter have supposed. We propose that the widespread adoption of the PSC for conservation purposes is potentially harmful. The PSC trivializes the species taxon and introduces new problems of deciding when a population becomes diagnosable, the possibility that species could appear and disappear in a reticulate fashion, and the likelihood that genetically diagnosable but phenotypically identical, and therefore not field identifiable, populations could be ranked as species. All of these problems negatively impact such things as constructing credible and politically defensible lists of endangered species, the prioritization of limited conservation resources, and the gathering of field data. We contend the BSC is arguably a more rational concept that better supports the activities of both scientific and nonprofessional observers. Biological species limits in oceanic archipelagoes worldwide need to be reevaluated using modern concepts and technologies before rational conservation decisions can be made.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The interplay of species concepts, taxonomy, and conservation: lessons from the Hawaiian avifauna
Series title Studies in Avian Biology
Volume 22
Year Published 2001
Language English
Publisher Cooper Ornithological Society
Publisher location Los Angeles, CA
Contributing office(s) Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center
Description 13 p.
First page 68
Last page 80
Country United States
State Hawaii