Genetics Redefining What Makes A Species

Scientists are using new DNA testing techniques to find new species where no one thought to look before.

For example, genetic testing of giraffes has shown that what was once believed to be a single species with several sub-species may actually be six different species -- and that some of those newly identified species are actually critically endangered.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, re-classifying giraffe sub-species as full-fledged species would force a re-examination of the techniques being used to preserve them from extinction (maybe just in time, since two of those current sub-species number just a few hundred individuals).

A similar study of the Amazon's terrestrial leaflitter frog at 13 sites found that they weren't all the same frogs -- they were actually three different species, which looked alike but had mitochondrial and nuclear DNA that diverged 5.3 million years ago. The researchers say "Our research coupled with other studies suggests that species richness in the upper Amazon is drastically underestimated."

Genetics remains a controversial tool in conservation. The Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse, one of those touchstone species that people have been fighting over for years, may or may not be a separate species, depending on who you listen to.

They say that DNA doesn't lie, but the truth can be a hard thing to hear.

See more articles from Extinction Blog


TrackBack URL for this entry:


Interesting post--and an important issue. NRDC has done some detailed research about the impact that genetic studies has on proposals to list and delist species under the federal Endangered Species Act. I blogged about it over at Switchboard last fall (

Post a comment

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter