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This Systematics Association Special Volume is the result of a symposium entitled, ‘Cryptic taxa - artefact of classification or evolutionary phenomena?’ held on June 17 as part of the Association’s 10th Biennial Meeting 2019. I began to realise that the notion of cryptic species touches the heart of several major debates in biology, including, ‘what are species?’, ‘how should we recognize them?’, the notion of punctuated equilibria and that of morphological stasis in the fossil record. Also, in the midst of a biodiversity crisis the phenomenon of cryptic species suggests that there may be a greater diversity of evolutionary lineages in need of conservation than has been suggested. The chapters that emerged from the Symposium show clearly how the topic of 'species' remains central to biodiversity sciences and the subject of wide-ranging and lively debate. In almost every chapter there is a call for change, either of direction or for the inclusion of new developments and data, and their focus ranges from abandoning species altogether to highlighting the weaknesses in current taxonomic process suggesting that our representation of the biological universe is still a chaotic torso.
Cryptic species are organisms which look identical, but which represent distinct evolutionary lineages. They are an emerging trend in organismal biology across all groups, from flatworms, insects, amphibians, primates, to vascular plants. This book critically evaluates the phenomenon of cryptic species and demonstrates how they can play a valuable role in improving our understanding of evolution, in particular of morphological stasis. It also explores how the recognition of cryptic species is intrinsically linked to the so-called 'species problem', the lack of a unifying species concept in biology, and suggests alternative approaches. Bringing together a range of perspectives from practicing taxonomists, the book presents case studies of cryptic species across a range of animal and plant groups. It will be an invaluable text for all biologists interested in species and their delimitation, definition, and purpose, including undergraduate and graduate students and researchers.
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