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- Species represent the lowest and most important of the primary groupings used in classifying plants, animals, and microorganisms. While no single definition applies to all organisms, biologists rely principally on (1) morphological and genetic similarities and (2), for sexually reproducing organisms, the capability of interbreeding with one another but not other groups. If different species do interbreed, the offspring, if any, are often sterile. Biologists give species unique, binomial names: a generic name that includes closely related species, and a species-specific name. The horse, for example, is Equus caballus; the donkey or ass is Equus asinus. (Their offspring, the mule, is sterile.) As populations of organisms vary geographically and change over time (becoming extinct, or splitting or evolving into new species), species classifications are neither absolute nor immutable; where some biologists see variations within a species (and may designate subspecies), others may see separate species. About 1.5 to 2 million species have been named, but scientists estimate the total number of species could be 5 to 100 million, many of them probably undiscovered microorganisms. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects species designated as endangered or threatened with extinction; these protections prohibit taking endangered species and can include restrictions on habitat alterations, such as logging or water pollution. Because of the way "species" is defined in the ESA, policy debates have arisen over whether certain groups of organisms qualify for listing (e.g., northern goshawks and the Alexander Archipelago wolf).
- reproductively isolated systems of breeding populations having a similar morphology
Source: Jenkins, John B. 1990. Human Genetics, 2nd Edition. New York: Harper & Row
- A classification of related organisms that can freely interbreed.