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      Cryptic animal species are homogeneously distributed among taxa and biogeographical regions

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      BMC Evolutionary Biology

      BioMed Central

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          Cryptic species are two or more distinct but morphologically similar species that were classified as a single species. During the past two decades we observed an exponential growth of publications on cryptic species. Recently published reviews have demonstrated cryptic species have profound consequences on many biological disciplines. It has been proposed that their distribution is non-random across taxa and biomes.


          We analysed a literature database for the taxonomic and biogeographical distribution of cryptic animal species reports. Results from regression analysis indicate that cryptic species are almost evenly distributed among major metazoan taxa and biogeographical regions when corrected for species richness and study intensity.


          This indicates that morphological stasis represents an evolutionary constant and that cryptic metazoan diversity does predictably affect estimates of earth's animal diversity. Our findings have direct theoretical and practical consequences for a number of prevailing biological questions with regard to global biodiversity estimates, conservation efforts and global taxonomic initiatives.

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          Most cited references 7

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          Cryptic species as a window on diversity and conservation.

          The taxonomic challenge posed by cryptic species (two or more distinct species classified as a single species) has been recognized for nearly 300 years, but the advent of relatively inexpensive and rapid DNA sequencing has given biologists a new tool for detecting and differentiating morphologically similar species. Here, we synthesize the literature on cryptic and sibling species and discuss trends in their discovery. However, a lack of systematic studies leaves many questions open, such as whether cryptic species are more common in particular habitats, latitudes or taxonomic groups. The discovery of cryptic species is likely to be non-random with regard to taxon and biome and, hence, could have profound implications for evolutionary theory, biogeography and conservation planning.
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            How many species are there on Earth?

             Bernie P. May (1988)
            This article surveys current answers to the factual question posed in the title and reviews the kinds of information that are needed to make these answers more precise. Various factors affecting diversity are also reviewed. These include the structure of food webs, the relative abundance of species, the number of species and of individuals in different categories of body size, along with other determinants of the commonness and rarity of organisms.
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              Taxonomic inflation: its influence on macroecology and conservation.

              Species numbers are increasing rapidly. This is due mostly to taxonomic inflation, where known subspecies are raised to species as a result in a change in species concept, rather than to new discoveries. Yet macroecologists and conservation biologists depend heavily on species lists, treating them as accurate and stable measures of biodiversity. Deciding on a standardized, universal species list might ameliorate the mismatch between taxonomy and the uses to which it is put. However, taxonomic uncertainty is ultimately due to the evolutionary nature of species, and is unlikely to be solved completely by standardization. For the moment, at least, users must acknowledge the limitations of taxonomic species and avoid unrealistic expectations of species lists.

                Author and article information

                BMC Evol Biol
                BMC Evolutionary Biology
                BioMed Central (London )
                19 July 2007
                : 7
                : 121
                [1 ]Abteilung Ökologie & Evolution, J.W. Goethe-Universität, Biologie Campus Siesmayerstraße, 60054 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
                Copyright © 2007 Pfenninger and Schwenk; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Research Article

                Evolutionary Biology


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