Letter | Published:

The Collection of Material for the Study of “Species”

Nature volume 63, pages 490491 (21 March 1901) | Download Citation



STRANGELY enough, while the publication of “The Origin of Species” and the research which has been carried on since Darwin wrote his epoch-making work have completely revolutionised the morphologist's conception of what is a “species,” nearly all the “systematic” work which is published even at the present day, especially in those branches of biological science where the amateur collector exerts most influence, is based upon the principles founded by Linnæus. These principles, while they were perfectly logical in pre-Darwinian days, are now, however, quite obsolete and out of harmony with the current state of biological knowledge. With a view to bringing scientific practice more into accord with scientific theory, a paper to which I listened at a recent meeting of the Linnæan Society suggested a reform in the present system of species nomenclature. Since, however, the great majority of those who describe “species” are unfortunately not in a position to realise how great indeed is the necessity of some such reform, it will probably not obtain immediate support from the systematists. The average “systematist” still holds the pre-Darwinian view of “species”; and, as the great bulk of the material at his disposal in public and private collections is of little value for the proper study of taxonomy, he quite fails to see how absolutely untenable his position really is. He does not realise how utterly impossible it is in certain groups to assign limits to the variability of “species,” and it will never occur to him that two specimens superficially alike in all respects may quite possibly have been evolved along entirely different paths.

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