Using genetic analysis alone can overestimate count
Genetic methods for counting new species may be a little too good at their jobs, a new study suggests.
Computer programs that rely on genetic data alone split populations of organisms into five to 13 times as many species as actually exist, researchers report online January 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These overestimates may muddy researchers’ views of how species evolve and undermine conservation efforts by claiming protections for species that don’t really exist, say computational evolutionary biologist Jeet Sukumaran and evolutionary biologist L. Lacey Knowles.
The lesson, says Knowles, “is that we shouldn’t use genetic data alone” to draw lines between species.
Scientists have historically used data about organisms’ ecological distribution, appearance and behavior to classify species. But the number of experts in taxonomy