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Biological systematics is the study of the diversification of living forms, both past and present, and the relationships among living things through time. Relationships are visualized as evolutionary trees (synonyms: cladograms, phylogenetic trees, phylogenies). Phylogenies have two components: branching order (showing group relationships) and branch length (showing amount of evolution). Phylogenetics trees of species and higher taxa are used to study the evolution of traits (e.g., anatomical or molecular characteristics) and the distribution of organisms (biogeography). Systematics, in other words, is used to understand the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

Branches and applications


In the study of biological systematics, researchers use the different branches to further understand the relationships between differing organisms.

Biological systematics classifies species by using three specific branches.

With the specific branches, researchers are able to determine the applications and uses for modern-day systematics.

  • Studying the diversity of organisms and the differentiation between extinct and living creatures.
  • Including the scientific names of organisms, species descriptions and overviews, taxonomic orders, and classifications of evolutionary and organism histories.
  • Explaining the biodiversity of the planet and its organisms.
  • Manipulating and controlling the natural world.

Definition and relation with taxonomy


John Lindley provided an early definition of systematics in 1830, although he wrote of "systematic botany" rather than using the term "systematics".[2]

In 1970 Michener et al. defined "systematic biology" and "taxonomy" (terms that are often confused and used interchangeably) in relationship to one another as follows:[3]

Taxonomy, systematic biology, systematics, biosystematics, scientific classification, biological classification, phylogenetics: At various times in history, all these words have had overlapping, related meanings.

For example, Webster's 9th New Collegiate Dictionary of 1987 treats "classification", "taxonomy", and "systematics" as synonyms.

Europeans tend to use the terms "systematics" and "biosystematics" for the study of biodiversity as a whole, whereas North Americans tend to use "taxonomy" more frequently.[4] However, taxonomy, and in particular alpha taxonomy, is more specifically the identification, description, and naming (i.e. nomenclature) of organisms,[5] while "classification" focuses on placing organisms within hierarchical groups that show their relationships to other organisms.

Systematics uses taxonomy as a primary tool in understanding, as nothing about an organism's relationships with other living things can be understood without it first being properly studied and described in sufficient detail to identify and classify it correctly.

Phenetics was an attempt to determine the relationships of organisms through a measure of overall similarity, making no distinction between plesiomorphies (shared ancestral traits) and apomorphies (derived traits). From the late-20th century onwards, it was superseded by cladistics, which rejects plesiomorphies in attempting to resolve the phylogeny of Earth's various organisms through time. Today's systematists generally make extensive use of molecular biology and of computer programs to study organisms.

Taxonomic characters


Taxonomic characters are the taxonomic attributes that can be used to provide the evidence from which relationships (the phylogeny) between taxa are inferred.[6] Kinds of taxonomic characters include:[7]

See also


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