Determining whether a given population of animals constitutes a distinct species can be difficult because no single accepted definition of the term exists. One approach, called the biological species concept, bases the definition on reproductive compatibility. According to this view, a species is a group of animals that can mate with one another to produce fertile offspring but cannot mate successfully with members of a different group. Yet this idea can be too restrictive. First, mating between groups labeled as different species (hybridization), as often occurs in the canine family, is quite common in nature. Second, sometimes the differences between two populations might not prevent them from interbreeding, even though they are dissimilar in traits unrelated to reproduction; some biologists question whether such disparate groups should be considered a single species. A third problem with the biological species concept is that investigators cannot always determine whether two groups that live in different places are capable of interbreeding.
  When the biological species concept is difficult to apply, some investigators use phenotype, an organism’s observable characteristics, instead. Two groups that have evolved separately are likely to display measurable differences in many of their traits, such as skull size or width of teeth. If the distribution of measurements from one group does not overlap with those of another, the two groups might reasonably be considered distinct species.

The passage is primarily concerned with

describing the development of the biological species concept

responding to a critique of reproductive compatibility as a criterion for defining a species

considering two different approaches to identifying biological species

pointing out the advantage of one method of distinguishing related species

identifying an obstacle to the classification of biological species


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