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Biological systematics is the study of the diversity of life on the planet earth, both past and present, and the relationships among living things through time. Systematics, in other words, is used to understand the evolutionary history of life on earth.
The term "systematics" is sometimes used synonymously with "taxonomy" and may be confused with "scientific classification." However, taxonomy is properly the describing, identifying, classifying, and naming of organisms, while "classification" is focused on placing organisms within groups that show their relationships to other organisms. All of these biological disciplines can be involved with extinct and extant organisms. However, systematics alone deals specifically with relationships through time, requiring recognition of the fossil record when dealing with the systematics of organisms.
Systematics uses taxonomy as a primary tool in understanding organisms, 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. Scientific classifications are aids in recording and reporting information to other scientists and to laymen. The systematist, a scientist who specializes in systematics, must, therefore, be able to use existing classification systems, or at least know them well enough to skillfully justify not using them.
Phenetic systematics involves clarifying the biodiversity of earth through time by using the morphology and physiology of the organisms, while phylogenetic systematics, also called cladistics, uses apomorphies, or evolutionarily novel characteristics, to group earth's various organisms and their relationships through time. Today systematists generally make extensive use of molecular genetics and computer programs to study organisms.
Systematics is fundamental to biology because it is the foundation for all studies of organisms, by showing how any organism relates to other living things.
Systematics is also of major importance in understanding conservation issues because it attempts to explain the earth's biodiversity and could be used to assist in allocating limited means to preserve and protect endangered species, by looking at, for example, the genetic diversity among various taxa of plants or animals and deciding how much of that it is necessary to preserve.
- cladistics - a popular methodology in systematics
- phylogeny - what is analyzed in systematics
- phylogenetic comparative methods - use of evolutionary trees to study biodiversity and comparative biology
- scientific classification - the result of research in systematics and taxonomy
- taxonomy - a branch of the biological sciences related to systematics
- Society of Australian Systematic Biologists
- Simpson, Michael G. 2005. Plant Systematics, 0126444609.
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