Species concepts and species delimitation employing molecular data

Species are fundamental units in evolutionary biology, ecology, and systematics. It is common sense that life forms are not morphological and genetically continuous, but occur in groups that we usually refer to as “species”. At same time, objective species delimitation is often blurred; since it is the product of the long chain of descent that we call evolution. What are species? Are they real entities with well-defined properties or arbitrary human constructs, useful only for operational purposes? The answer to this question is not only purely academic, but it also has direct consequences for biodiversity conservation. For example, biodiversity loss can occur if a conservation program underestimates the number of species.

In this course, we will discuss philosophical, conceptual, and practical issues related to species concepts and their implication for ecological studies and conservation. For inferring boundaries between species, we will use underlying assumptions of population genetics and recently developed approaches, such as multi-species coalescence. The course will offer hands-on sessions which will help with learning about leading species delimitation programs (GMYC, BPP, STACEY, *BEAST, etc).

Almir Pepato:

Almir Pepato is a professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG, Brazil), where he has worked since 2011. His graduate and postdoctoral research focused on mite higher-level phylogeny and morphology. Drawing on his research experience, he has taught intensive courses on phylogenetic inference, employing molecular data and species delimitation theory, at the Zoology Postgraduate Program at UFMG. Currently, he is working on a comprehensive coastal biogeographic study, in a long-term partnership with Dr. Pavel Klimov (University of Michigan).

Pavel Klimov:

Pavel Klimov has been working at the University of Michigan since 2000. He has authored 59 papers, as well as a monograph on phylogenetic systematics, coevolution, and biogeography. Dr. Klimov also teaches the Acarological Summer Course at the Ohio State University. He is particularly interested in the relationship between mites and human health, and has been a key contributor in recent genomic sequencing of the American House Dust Mite. In 2014-2017, Drs. Almir Pepato and Klimov obtained funding from the Brazilian government to investigate the biogeography of the Brazilian coast. Klimov’s notable co-authors include Edward O. Wilson, one of the founders of island biogeography.