Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 553–568 | Cite as

Microbiology and the species problem

  • Marc EreshefskyEmail author


This paper examines the species problem in microbiology and its implications for the species problem more generally. Given the different meanings of ‘species’ in microbiology, the use of ‘species’ in biology is more multifarious and problematic than commonly recognized. So much so, that recent work in microbial systematics casts doubt on the existence of a prokaryote species category in nature. It also casts doubt on the existence of a general species category for all of life (one that includes both prokaryotes and eukaryotes). Prokaryote biology also undermines recent attempts to save the species category, such as the suggestion that species are metapopulation lineages and the idea that ‘species’ is a family resemblance concept.


Microbiology Prokaryotes Species Species category Species concepts 



I would like to thank Eric Bapteste, Richard Boyd, Ingo Brigandt, Ford Doolittle, David Hull, Maureen O’Malley, Elliott Sober, Joel Velasco, and two anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provided financial support for this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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