The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Species concepts in anthropology and their relation to research interests


Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri

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Discussion over what constitutes a species, especially in light of new fossils, specimens, or populations, can be a controversial process. Within anthropology, there are multiple species concepts that underlie the recognition and diagnosis of new species in practice. Each concept has its own strengths, weaknesses, and applications to research. It is unclear, however, how social and intellectual factors influence what species concept a given researcher chooses to use. This paper examines relationships among differing use of species concepts in biological anthropology. We evaluate the tendency of individuals to recognize a new species and to ascribe to particular species concepts, and how these factors are related to their sub-discipline within biological anthropology, their research methodology, and their academic lineage. In 2012, 229 members of the American Association of Physical Anthropology and the International Primatological Society answered an online survey on their academic backgrounds and use of species concepts; responses were analyzed using Pearson’s Chi-Square tests. The analysis shows that research focus and lineage had strong impacts on species creation philosophy. Bioarchaeologists and human biologists were more likely to be lumpers, while primatologists tended towards splitting. Interestingly, paleoanthropologists showed no overall trend despite their focus on defining new fossil species. Further, students tended to follow the same species creation philosophy as their advisors. Lab versus field research and era of degree education failed to yield significant overall results. Further research is necessary to fully explore both the social and intellectual factors that influence the scientific acceptance of species assignments.

This study was funded by the University of Missouri Life Sciences Fellowship.

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