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Superspecies is a taxonomic rank used for a group of at least two distinctive but closely related species. The rank was popularized by Bernhard Rensch and later by Ernst Mayr. These authors specified that the species involved must have allopatric distributions.[1][2] The German equivalent Artenkreis (from German Art (species) and Kreis (circle, ring)) is also used in English texts.

The superspecies rank is neither a primary nor secondary rank under the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants, but is permitted under article 4.3.[3]

Not all species complexes are superspecies. In groups where there has not been sufficient study to determine how much interbreeding is possible, the best available taxonomic opinion may be uncertain as to whether the component populations should be considered to be full species or subspecies. A ring species, also called Rassenkreis (from German Rassen (race, population) and Kreis (circle, ring)), has a similar structure to a superspecies, but the components are populations that can interbreed to some extent, rather than separate species. A ring species is, in many cases, likely to evolve in time to become a superspecies.[4]

See also

Informal taxonomic groupings:


  1. Amadon, D. (1966). "The Superspecies Concept". Systematic Biology 15 (3): 245–249. doi:10.2307/sysbio/15.3.245. 
  2. FishBase glossary; "Artenkreis". FishBase. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  3. McNeill, J.; Barrie, F. R.; Buck, W. R. et al., eds. (2012), International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (Melbourne Code), Adopted by the Eighteenth International Botanical Congress Melbourne, Australia, July 2011 (electronic ed.), Bratislava: International Association for Plant Taxonomy, retrieved 2012-12-20  .
  4. Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye (1988). "Superspecies".