Ben Crair writes: Since the red wolf was originally classified as an endangered species, biologists have studied it intensely — sequencing its DNA, scrutinizing its morphology, and piecing together its evolutionary history. And they’ve put forward a compelling new theory: The red wolf, an animal the U.S. government has spent decades and millions of dollars attempting to save from extinction, may not actually be a distinct species at all.
The implications of this idea extend far beyond the swamps and farms of North Carolina, threatening the very foundations of biology itself. “Not to have a natural unit such as the species would be to abandon a large part of biology into free fall, all the way from the ecosystem down to the organism,” the noted biologist and theorist E.O. Wilson wrote in his 1992 book The Diversity of Life. And yet, the research into the red wolf challenges our accepted notions about how species are defined—and about how evolution actually works. [Continue reading…]