Integrative Taxonomy and the Operationalization of Evolutionary Independence

20 Jun 2018

There is growing agreement among taxonomists that species are independently evolving lineages. The central notion of this conception, evolutionary independence, is commonly operationalized by taxonomists in multiple, diverging ways. This leads to a problem of operationalization-dependency in species classification, as species delimitation is not only dependent on the properties of the investigated groups, but also on how taxonomists choose to operationalize evolutionary independence. The question then is how the operationalization-dependency of species delimitation is compatible with its objectivity and reliability. In response to this problem, various taxonomists have proposed to integrate multiple operationalizations of evolutionary independence for delimiting species. This paper first distinguishes between a standard and a sophisticated integrative approach to taxonomy, and argues that it is unclear how either of these can support the reliability and objectivity of species delimitation. It then draws a parallel between the measurement of physical quantities and species delimitation to argue that species delimitation can be considered objective and reliable if we understand the sophisticated integrative approach as assessing the coherence between the idealized models of multiple operationalizations of evolutionary independence.