Fewer than 4,000 tigers roam across the Asian continent today, compared to about 100,000 a century ago. But researchers are proposing a new way to protect the big cats: redefine them.
The proposal, published this week in Science Advances, argues current taxonomy of the species is flawed, making global conservation efforts unnecessarily difficult.
There are up to nine commonly accepted subspecies of tigers in the world, three of which are extinct. But the scientists’ analysis, conducted over a course of several years, claims there are really only two tiger subspecies: one found on continental Asia and another from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali.
If the tiger is redefined more broadly, the emphasis can be on saving tigers as a whole, rather than having to treat subpopulations in very particular and sometimes inefficient ways. Monetary theory enters into this problem as well:
At the heart of the debate is a concept called “taxonomic inflation,” or the massive influx of newly recognized species and subspecies. Some critics blame the trend in part on emerging methods of identifying species through ancestry and not physical traits. Others point to technology that has allowed scientists to distinguish between organisms at the molecular level.
“There are so many species concepts that you could distinguish each population separately,” Wilting said. “Not everything you can distinguish should be its own species.”
That is all from Robert Gebelhoff.