fuse wrote:From what I've read, modern humans (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) are already a subspecies group of Homo Sapiens.
That's interesting. SUbspecies are defined in relation to each other (i.e., you need at least two), so I'm not sure how that works when only one subspecies still exists. If you count extinct populations when defining subspecies, I'd have to imagine virtually every existent species is a subspecies. The other thing to ask is, what's the difference between homo sapiens sapiens
and other (former?) subspecies in homo sapiens
, such that we can justify calling them different subspecies without calling, say, african blacks and eskimos two different subspecies. I can't imagine what it would be, even in theory- geographic isolation? Check. Morphological differences due to a lack of interbreeding? Check.
Although the terms race and subspecies have been used interchangeably in some instances, it seems that race is not a widely used term in biological taxonomy, though it has become a prominent term in the classification of human beings. For humans, racial classifications seem to signify something other than subspecies groups.
I can't find a reason other than civics: i.e, it seems more polite to refer to human races than to human subspecies. I'd like to know what the actual material difference is.
The picture that begins to emerge from this and other analyses of human genetic variation is that variation tends to be geographically structured, such that most individuals from the same geographic region will be more similar to one another than to individuals from a distant region. Because of a history of extensive migration and gene flow, however, human genetic variation tends to be distributed in a continuous fashion and seldom has marked geographic discontinuities19, 42. Thus, populations are never 'pure' in a genetic sense, and definite boundaries between individuals or populations (e.g., 'races') will be necessarily somewhat inaccurate and arbitrary.
My experience with turtle subspecies tells me this holds for other creatures as well, though. It's a well-known trait of subspecies that their populations will often border each other, and along that border you have interbreeding. It's called a subspecies margin or something like that. I'm going by the definition cited in Wikipedia so far:
"A taxonomist decides whether to recognize a subspecies or not. A common way to decide is that organisms belonging to different subspecies of the same species are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring, but they do not usually interbreed in nature due to geographic isolation, sexual selection, or other factors. The differences between subspecies are usually less distinct than the differences between species."
I think the fact that humans cover the whole world also complicates things, because it makes population borders so much less distinct. If there were only two groups of humans- the ones who live in Japan and look Japanese, and the ones that look in Sweden and look like Vikings, no unbiased observer would have any problem at all concluding that there are two human subspecies. If you then transplanted the Japanese subspecies to, say, Norway, so that interbreeding becomes more common, I suppose the question then becomes at one point, if any, do their cease to be multiple human subspecies? Is it when the interbred population exceeds either of the two 'pure' populations, or is it when one of the two 'pure' populations goes extinct? If you're right that homo sapiens sapiens is considered a subspecies even with all others extinct, the answer may well be never.
Data from many sources have shown that humans are genetically homogeneous and that genetic variation tends to be shared widely among populations. Genetic variation is geographically structured, as expected from the partial isolation of human populations during much of their history. Because traditional concepts of race are in turn correlated with geography, it is inaccurate to state that race is "biologically meaningless." On the other hand, because they have been only partially isolated, human populations are seldom demarcated by precise genetic boundaries. Substantial overlap can therefore occur between populations, invalidating the concept that populations (or races) are discrete types.
My problem here is that I can't find any reliable source that says percentage of genetic population has anything, anything at all
to do with how subspecies are defined. From what I can tell, genetic variation has fuck all to do with subspecies, and fuck all to do with traditional understands of race. This will sound crass,and I only have a minor in anthropology, but it really seems to me that anthropologists started
to treat percentage of genetic variation as a determinate factor in these things purely
to justify saying race isn't a real thing.
So, to take the classic example: two islands, one species of bird on both islands. On Island A, the birds are blue, and on Island B, the birds are green. It's established that they are one species- this is the only real difference between them, they can interbreed, and when they do interbreed the offspring are healthy and fecund (and teal). Would a biologist really
have to decode their genome and measure the percentage of genetic variation between the two populations before deciding whether or not that is an example of subspecies? And what exactly are they looking for- what's the objective criteria that such analysis will reveal, such that just looking at the birds and their color may be decieving? That seems silly to me, and I see no evidence that it is done this way. I could be wrong though, I'm no biologist.
Although individuals may refer to themselves as belonging to a particular 'race', it is doubtful that this has been done with knowledge of, or concern for, zoological taxonomy, because the common use of the term has come from sociopolitical discourse. Individuals learned the 'race' to which they were assigned.
Now this bit I agree with. It's pretty obvious that racial distinction is not/was not done with any attention to science in mind. We look at people, see they are physically different, note that that physical difference corresponds to where they come from, and we have a word for that phenomenon. Guys from Boston have a way they talk, we note the 'Boston accent', most of us know what that sound like, I'm told linguistic experts can tell where somebody came from down to the neighborhood based on their accent- and at no point is science involved or consulted in any of this. Difference being that racial differences are genetic, of course.
Although 'race' and subspecies are usually treated as equivalent, some zoological taxonomists reserve the word 'race' for local breeding populations, with subspecies being geographical collections of populations that are similar or the same in the defining traits. This causes no serious problem to this discussion, because the most commonly known anthropological classification of humans is said to consist of races. If 'Caucasoid' is a subspecies, however, then an endogamous village population or ethnic group becomes a 'race'. This illustrates an inconsistency even in biological usage not found in scientific or sociopolitical practice: for example, how often are the Old Order Amish referred to as a 'race' in recent scientific literature? This group of people is a breeding population, based on a particular behavioral pattern of mate choice, as opposed to being defined by an anatomical trait complex.
That's a great point about the Amish; are they a subspecies? They certainly are an isolated breeding population. There is certainly some subjectivity there: how different
the Amish have to be before it would be right to call them a subspecies is not going to have a precise answer. I suppose what it would come down to is, could a taxonomist look at a human corpse and reliably determine that it was the corpse of an Amish person, in the way that they could determine it was an oriental or a sub-saharan African or what have you. My impression is no, but I am uncertain.
Ultimately what I am looking for is consistency. Here are the subspecies of Canis Lupus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subspecies_of_Canis_lupus
What is the consistently applied methodology that tells us Canis Lupus has 37 subspecies, and Homo sapiens sapiens has zero? My wager is that in the absence of politics, there isn't one. Are Steppe Wolves and Eurasian Wolves really
so different from each other in a way that people from Okinawa and people from Brazil are not?