Species, Subspecies, and Baboon Systematics

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Abstract

The baboons of the genus Papio [excluding the gelada (Theropithecus) and (pace Delson, 1975), the mandrills, and drills (Mandrillus)] comprise a cluster of para-patric populations spread across most of the Ethiopian faunal zone. The present paper uses baboon diversity to explore some aspects of species definition and diagnosis, without attempting a comprehensive revision of the group or an exhaustive exploration of the species concept. The baboons are well suited to this purpose, because the various phenotypically distinct “forms” (which I call subspecies) have some but not all of the attributes commonly used to define one or another variant of the species concept. Another advantage is their quasi-continuous distribution, mostly undivided by extrinsic barriers that would avoid the problem of delineating natural units yet including some populations that are geographically isolated but not phenetically distinct, which illustrate the problems of definition raised by extrinsic isolation.