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THE CLASSIFICATION

OF LIVING ORGANISMS

Taxonomy or Systematics:
The study of classification

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


Why classify organisms?
 Over a million species so far identified
 Estimates of up to 30 million species on Earth
 Need to organise this biodiversity
 Systematics tells us about
the patterns in nature,
the way organisms are related,
how they evolve
 Systematics can be used to identify
organisms that are important to us.
© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS
Systematics
 Collections of animals
and plants in museums
from 17th century
 Need for systematic
classification established
 Carl Linneus (1735)
The binomial
Jardins des Plantes Paris classification
 To “put order into God’s
creation”.
© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS
Binomial system

Homo sapiens

Genus Species
Capital case Small case

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


Levels of hierarchy

Taxon
Domain
Kingdom
Phylum
Class Based on relatedness (phylogeny) but artificial
Order
Family
Genus
Species Some biological basis

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


The unit of taxonomy: The SPECIES
 The term species has biological significance
 Species form populations of individuals which
may interbreed to form fully fertile offspring
Problem: Some species only use asexual
reproduction or rarely use sexual reproduction.

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


How taxonomy works
 The aim is to group organisms according to their
evolutionary relationship (phylogeny)
 Established by studying the phenotypes of living
organisms or fossils
 DNA sequencing compares the genotypes
 Use characteristic features to group organisms
(e.g. all animals with feathers = Birds)
 Taxonomists decide which are the most significant
or "important" characteristics by the way they occur
in different groups of organisms.

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


Comparing phenotypes &
genotypes
Taxonomists compare a new specimen with given
characteristics to other specimens:
 morphology

 anatomy

 behaviour
Phenotype
 embryology

 protein structure

 karyotypes
Genotype
 DNA sequence (DNA fingerprints).

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


Hierarchy of characters
 Taxonomy uses many different characteristics to
define a taxon
 One character is not enough
 The characteristics are grouped in a hierarchy.

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


Example
 Having four legs with five toes
is common to all land
vertebrates and their fish
ancestor
 This would be used to group
the animals we call tetrapods
Acanthostega
 Having a nerve cord running
down the back is a feature
common to all the tetrapods but
also all the rest of the
vertebrates
 So it can be used to group all
the vertebrates but not the
tetrapods alone. Lamprey

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


The pentadactyl limb

 Classification led to comparisons of shape


and form that gave rise to comparative
anatomy
 Comparative anatomists noticed that different
species have similar structures used for
different functions (e.g. the pentadactyle
limb of terrestrial vertebrates)
 These are called homologous structures.

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


The pendadactyle limb

Lizard Frog

Bat Human
© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS
Analogous or homologous
characters
 Even though the front legs of different mammals
may look different they still use the same bones in
their structure
 The simplest explanation for this is that they all
originated from a common ancestor, the ancestor of
all mammals
 This is called homology
 As organisms evolved they split up and specialised
in different ways of living
 Their bodies changed in shape but they still retain
some of their ancestors features.
© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS
Homology in mammalian fore limbs

© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS


Analogous structures
Wolf Canis lupus

 Some structures may


look very similar but
have evolved
independently
 They are the product Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus
of natural selection
on an organ adapting
an organism to a
particular niche.
© 2016 Paul Billiet ODWS