The first session of the Sawyer seminar explored the following questions: (1) what are species and do they hold a unique position in the tree of life? (2) how are species (concepts) diagnosed, defined, and used in practice? and (3) how has the species concept influenced the worldview of western society?

     Two differing, yet overlapping perspectives were presented, one by zoologist Dr. Craig Moritz, and the other by botanist Dr. Brent Mishler. Dr. Moritz emphasized the biological species concept and submitted that species are real as lineages, and that they hold a special position in the tree of life. Dr. Mishler agreed that species are real as lineages, but are not uniquely real (i.e., special as a rank) relative to other taxonomic levels.

     The panel discussants helped link these views, emphasizing the importance of understanding the evolutionary processes behind the species designation. They also explored the moral and cultural consequences of the use of species in conservation biology.


Dr. Craig Moritz, Research School of Biology, Australian National University.

Presenting: “Species are real biological entities.”

Dr. Brent Mishler, University and Jepson Herbaria, UC Berkeley.

Presenting: “Species are not uniquely real biological entities.”

Discussant, Dr. Robert Proctor, Professor of the History of Science, Stanford University.

Discussant, Dr. Roberta Millstein, Professor of Philosophy, UC Davis.

Discussant, Dr. David Wake, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, UC Berkeley.