The renowned Harvard biology professor emeritus and prolific author of popular biological works, Edward O. Wilson, has long been noted as perhaps the most tireless promoter on the planet concerning the importance of recognizing the diversity to be found among organisms. Consequently, it has mystified me that he should be so frequently cited by authors of phylogenetic works seeking to ignore or limit the official recognition of biodiversity at one of its most basic levels, the subspecies (e.g., Frost and Hillis 1990; Zink 2004; Douglas et al. 2007; Makowsky et al. 2010; etc., ad infinitum).
It is true that Wilson and his elder Harvard colleague W.L. Brown (1922-1997), did publish - in 1953 - a paper that was disparaging of subspecies - as they were being rather uncritically described at the time. Since then, however, Wilson has on at least two occasions admitted that
" . . . I realize now that Brown and I overstated our case in 1953. Some populations can be defined clearly with sets of genetic traits that do change in a concordant, not a discordant manner. Furthermore, the subspecies category is often a convenient shorthand for alluding to important populations even when their genetic status is ambiguous." (Naturalist, 1995).
In an earlier work (The Diversity of Life, 1992), Wilson elaborated further:
"The demotion of the subspecies should carry with it a word of caution, in the service of moderation. Real populations do exist, however difficult to define. Genetic traits still vary. . . . It is further true that some populations of widespread animals and plants are sufficiently isolated and genetically distinct to compose objective subspecies even in the abstract textbook sense. It is useful to label such populations formally as subspecies."
Douglas, M.E.; Douglas, M.R.; Schuett, G.W.; Porras, L.W.; and B.L. Thompson. 2007. Genealogical Concordance between Mitochondrial and Nuclear DNAs Supports Species Recognition of the Panamint Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii stephensi). Copeia 2007(4): 920-932. [PDF]
Frost, D.R. and D.M. Hillis. 1990. Species in concept and practice: herpetological applications. Herpetologica 46(1): 87-104.
Makowsky, R.; Marshall, J.C., Jr.; McVay, J.; Chippindale, P.T. and L.J. Risssler. 2010. Phylogeographic analysis and environmental niche modeling of the plainbellied water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) reveals low levels of genetic and ecological differentiation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 55 (2010): 985-995. [PDF] ]
Reiserer, R.S.; Schuett, G.W.; and D.D. Beck. 2013. Taxonomic reassessment and conservation status of the beaded lizard, Heloderma horridum (Squamata: Helodermatidae). Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 7(1): 74–96.
Wilson, E.O. and W.L. Brown, Jr. 1953. The subspecies concept and its taxonomic applications. Systematic Zoology 2:97-111.
Wilson, E.O. 1992. The Diversity of Life. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
Wilson, E.O. 1995. Naturalist. New York: Warner Books. Pp. 206-208.
Zink, R.M. 2004. The role of subspecies in obscuring avian biological diversity and misleading conservation policy. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B (2004) 271, 561–564