Species

In biology, a species is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank, as well as a unit of biodiversity, but it has proven difficult to find a satisfactory definition. 

Scientists and conservationists need a species definition which allows them to work, regardless of the theoretical difficulties. If, as Carl Linnaeus thought, species were fixed and clearly distinct from one another, there would be no problem, but evolutionary processes cause species to change continually, and to grade into one another.

 A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. 

But...

While this definition is often adequate, when looked at more closely it is problematic. For example, with hybridisation, in a species complex of hundreds of similar microspecies, or in a ring species, the boundaries between closely related species become unclear. 

Asexual organisms are a problem for defining distinct species

Among organisms that reproduce only asexually, the concept of a reproductive species breaks down, and each clone is potentially a microspecies. Problems also arise when dealing with fossils, since reproduction cannot be examined; the concept of the chronospecies is therefore used in palaeontology. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche.

Naming species

All species are given a two-part name, a "binomial". The first part of a binomial is the genus to which the species belongs. The second part is called the specific name or the specific epithet (in botanical nomenclature, also sometimes in zoological nomenclature). For example, Boa constrictor is one of four species of the genus Boa.

History of the concept of species

Species were seen from the time of Aristotle until the 18th century as fixed kinds that could be arranged in a hierarchy, the great chain of being. In the 19th century, biologists grasped that species could evolve given sufficient time. 

Charles Darwin's 1859 book The Origin of Species explained how species could arise by natural selection. That understanding was greatly extended in the 20th century through genetics and population ecology.

Genetic explanation 

Genetic variability arises from mutations and recombination, while organisms themselves are mobile, leading to geographical isolation and genetic drift with varying selection pressures. 

Genes can sometimes be exchanged between species by horizontal gene transfer; new species can arise rapidly through hybridisation and polyploidy; and species may become extinct for a variety of reasons. Viruses are a special case, driven by a balance of mutation and selection, and can be treated as quasispecies.

Practically speaking...

As a practical matter, species concepts may be used to define species that are then used to measure biodiversity, though whether this is a good measure is disputed, as other measures are possible.

Source adapted from: Wikipedia contributors. (2019, February 6). Species. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 07:18, February 7, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Species&oldid=882048830