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). Phylogenetic 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.

A comparison of phylogenetic and phenetic (character-based) concepts

Branches and applications

In the study of biological systematics, researchers use the different branches to further understand the relationships between differing organisms. These branches are used to determine the applications and uses for modern day systematics.

Biological systematics classifies species by using three specific branches. Numerical systematics, or biometry, uses biological statistics to identify and classify animals. Biochemical systematics classifies and identifies animals based on the analysis of the material that makes up the living part of a cell—such as the nucleus, organelles, and cytoplasm. Experimental systematics identifies and classifies animals based on the evolutionary units that comprise a species, as well as their importance in evolution itself. Factors such as mutations, genetic divergence, and hybridization all are considered evolutionary units.[1]

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

  • Studying the diversity of organisms and the differentiation between extinct and living creatures. Biologists study the well-understood relationships by making many different diagrams and "trees" (cladograms, phylogenetic trees, phylogenies, etc.).
  • 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. The systematic study is that of conservation.
  • Manipulating and controlling the natural world. This includes the practice of 'biological control', the intentional introduction of natural predators and disease.[1]

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]

Systematic biology (hereafter called simply systematics) is the field that (a) provides scientific names for organisms, (b) describes them, (c) preserves collections of them, (d) provides classifications for the organisms, keys for their identification, and data on their distributions, (e) investigates their evolutionary histories, and (f) considers their environmental adaptations. This is a field with a long history that in recent years has experienced a notable renaissance, principally with respect to theoretical content. Part of the theoretical material has to do with evolutionary areas (topics e and f above), the rest relates especially to the problem of classification. Taxonomy is that part of Systematics concerned with topics (a) to (d) above.

Taxonomy, systematic biology, systematics, biosystematics, scientific classification, biological classification, phylogenetics: At various times in history, all these words have had overlapping, related meanings. However, in modern usage, they can all be considered synonyms of each other.

For example, Webster's 9th New Collegiate Dictionary of 1987 treats "classification", "taxonomy", and "systematics" as synonyms. According to this work, the terms originated in 1790, c. 1828, and in 1888 respectively. Some claim systematics alone deals specifically with relationships through time, and that it can be synonymous with phylogenetics, broadly dealing with the inferred hierarchy of organisms. This means it would be a subset of taxonomy as it is sometimes regarded, but the inverse is claimed by others.

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. All of these biological disciplines can deal with both extinct and extant 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. 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 skilfully justify not using them.

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]

  • Morphological characters
    • General external morphology
    • Special structures (e.g. genitalia)
    • Internal morphology (anatomy)
    • Embryology
    • Karyology and other cytological factors
  • Physiological characters
    • Metabolic factors
    • Body secretions
    • Genic sterility factors
  • Molecular characters
    • Immunological distance
    • Electrophoretic differences
    • Amino acid sequences of proteins
    • DNA hybridization
    • DNA and RNA sequences
    • Restriction endonuclease analyses
    • Other molecular differences
  • Behavioral characters
    • Courtship and other ethological isolating mechanisms
    • Other behavior patterns
  • Ecological characters
    • Habit and habitats
    • Food
    • Seasonal variations
    • Parasites and hosts
  • Geographic characters
    • General biogeographic distribution patterns
    • Sympatric-allopatric relationship of populations



  1. ^ a b "Systematics: Meaning, Branches and Its Application". Biology Discussion. 2016-05-27. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  2. ^ Wilkins, J. S. What is systematics and what is taxonomy?. Available on
  3. ^ Michener, Charles D., John O. Corliss, Richard S. Cowan, Peter H. Raven, Curtis W. Sabrosky, Donald S. Squires, and G. W. Wharton (1970). Systematics In Support of Biological Research. Division of Biology and Agriculture, National Research Council. Washington, D.C. 25 pp.
  4. ^ Brusca, R. C., & Brusca, G. J. (2003). Invertebrates (2nd ed.). Sunderland, Mass. : Sinauer Associates, p. 27
  5. ^ Fortey, Richard (2008), Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, London: Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0-00-720989-7
  6. ^ Mayr, Ernst (1991). Principles of Systematic Zoology. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 159.
  7. ^ Mayr, Ernst (1991), p. 162.

Further reading

  • Schuh, Randall T. and Andrew V. Z. Brower. 2009. Biological Systematics: Principles and Applications, 2nd edn. ISBN 978-0-8014-4799-0
  • Simpson, Michael G. 2005. Plant Systematics. ISBN 978-0-12-644460-5
  • Wiley, Edward O. and Bruce S. Lieberman. 2011. "Phylogenetics: Theory and Practice of Phylogenetic Systematics, 2nd edn." ISBN 978-0-470-90596-8

External links


The Araneomorphae (also called the Labidognatha) are an infraorder of spiders. They are distinguished by having chelicerae (fangs) that point diagonally forward and cross in a pinching action, in contrast to the Mygalomorphae (tarantulas and their close kin), where they point straight down. Most of the spiders that people encounter in daily life belong to the Araneomorphae.

Bird of prey

Birds of prey, or raptors, include species of bird that primarily hunt and feed on vertebrates that are large relative to the hunter. Additionally, they have keen eyesight for detecting food at a distance or during flight, strong feet equipped with talons for grasping or killing prey, and powerful, curved beaks for tearing flesh. The term raptor is derived from the Latin word rapio, meaning to seize or take by force. In addition to hunting live prey, most also eat carrion, at least occasionally, and vultures and condors eat carrion as their main food source.Although the term bird of prey could theoretically be taken to include all birds that primarily consume animals, ornithologists typically use the narrower definition followed in this page. Examples of animal-eating birds not encompassed by the ornithological definition include storks, herons, gulls, skuas, penguins, kookaburras, and shrikes, as well as the many songbirds that are primarily insectivorous.


Cladistics (, from Greek κλάδος, kládos, "branch") is an approach to biological classification in which organisms are categorized in groups ("clades") based on the most recent common ancestor. Hypothesized relationships are typically based on shared derived characteristics (synapomorphies) that can be traced to the most recent common ancestor and are not present in more distant groups and ancestors. A key feature of a clade is that a common ancestor and all its descendants are part of the clade. Importantly, all descendants stay in their overarching ancestral clade. For example, if within a strict cladistic framework the terms animals, bilateria/worms, fishes/vertebrata, or monkeys/anthropoidea were used, these terms would include humans. Many of these terms are normally used paraphyletically, outside of cladistics, e.g. as a 'grade'. Radiation results in the generation of new subclades by bifurcation.The techniques and nomenclature of cladistics have been applied to other disciplines. (See phylogenetic nomenclature.)

Cladistics is now the most commonly used method to classify organisms.


The Cricetidae are a family of rodents in the large and complex superfamily Muroidea. It includes true hamsters, voles, lemmings, and New World rats and mice. At almost 608 species, it is the second-largest family of mammals, and has members throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.


The Dicondylia are a taxonomic group (taxon) that includes all insects except the jumping bristletails (Archaeognatha). Dicondylia have a mandible attached with two hinges to the head capsule (dicondyl), in contrast to the original mandible with a single ball joint (monocondyl).


Drepaninae are by far the largest subfamily of the Drepanidae moths. While it is usually split into two tribes, Drepanini and Oretini, its internal systematics and phylogeny are not well resolved.


The genus Eligmodontia consists of five or six species of South American sigmodontine mice restricted to Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Species of Eligmodontia occur along the eastern side of the Andes Mountains, in Patagonia, and in the Chaco thorn forest of South America. They can be found in arid and semiarid habitats and in both high and low elevation areas. These rodents are commonly known as gerbil mice or by their local name lauchas. Sometimes they are also called silky desert mice, highland desert mice or silky-footed mice. The closest living relatives are probably the chaco mice (Andalgalomys), the leaf-eared mice (Graomys, Paralomys and Phyllotis), and Salinomys.


Endopterygota (from Ancient Greek endon “inner” + pterón, “wing” + New Latin -ota “having”), also known as Holometabola, is a superorder of insects within the infraclass Neoptera that go through distinctive larval, pupal, and adult stages. They undergo a radical metamorphosis, with the larval and adult stages differing considerably in their structure and behaviour. This is called holometabolism, or complete metamorphism.

The Endopterygota are among the most diverse insect superorders, with over 1 million living species divided between 11 orders, containing insects such as butterflies, flies, fleas, bees, ants, and beetles.They are distinguished from the Exopterygota (or Hemipterodea) by the way in which their wings develop. Endopterygota (meaning literally "internal winged forms") develop wings inside the body and undergo an elaborate metamorphosis involving a pupal stage. Exopterygota ("external winged forms") develop wings on the outside their bodies and do not go through a pupal stage. The latter trait is plesiomorphic, however, and not exclusively found in the exopterygotes, but also in groups such as Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), which are not Neoptera, but more basal among insects.

The earliest endopterygote fossils date from the Carboniferous.

Evolutionary taxonomy

Evolutionary taxonomy, evolutionary systematics or Darwinian classification is a branch of biological classification that seeks to classify organisms using a combination of phylogenetic relationship (shared descent), progenitor-descendant relationship (serial descent), and degree of evolutionary change. This type of taxonomy may consider whole taxa rather than single species, so that groups of species can be inferred as giving rise to new groups. The concept found its most well-known form in the modern evolutionary synthesis of the early 1940s.

Evolutionary taxonomy differs from strict pre-Darwinian Linnaean taxonomy (producing orderly lists only), in that it builds evolutionary trees. While in phylogenetic nomenclature each taxon must consist of a single ancestral node and all its descendants, evolutionary taxonomy allows for groups to be excluded from their parent taxa (e.g. dinosaurs are not considered to include birds, but to have given rise to them), thus permitting paraphyletic taxa.

History of plant systematics

The history of plant systematics—the biological classification of plants—stretches from the work of ancient Greek to modern evolutionary biologists. As a field of science, plant systematics came into being only slowly, early plant lore usually being treated as part of the study of medicine. Later, classification and description was driven by natural history and natural theology. Until the advent of the theory of evolution, nearly all classification was based on the scala naturae. The professionalization of botany in the 18th and 19th century marked a shift toward more holistic classification methods, eventually based on evolutionary relationships.


The Leotiomycetes are a class of ascomycete fungi. Many of them cause serious plant diseases.


The Lithosiini are a tribe of lichen moths in the family Erebidae.

Molecular phylogenetics

Molecular phylogenetics () is the branch of phylogeny that analyzes genetic, hereditary molecular differences, predominately in DNA sequences, to gain information on an organism's evolutionary relationships. From these analyses, it is possible to determine the processes by which diversity among species has been achieved. The result of a molecular phylogenetic analysis is expressed in a phylogenetic tree. Molecular phylogenetics is one aspect of molecular systematics, a broader term that also includes the use of molecular data in taxonomy and biogeography.Molecular phylogenetics and molecular evolution correlate. Molecular evolution is the process of selective changes (mutations) at a molecular level (genes, proteins, etc.) throughout various branches in the tree of life (evolution). Molecular phylogenetics makes inferences of the evolutionary relationships that arise due to molecular evolution and results in the construction of a phylogenetic tree. The figure displayed on the right depicts the phylogenetic tree of life as one of the first detailed trees, according to information known in the 1870s by Haeckel.


Neognaths (Neognathae) (from Ancient Greek neo- "new" + gnáthos “jaw”) are birds within the subclass Neornithes of the class Aves. The Neognathae include virtually all living birds; exceptions being their sister taxon (Palaeognathae), which contains the tinamous and the flightless ratites.

There are nearly 10,000 species of neognaths. The earliest fossils are known from the very end of the Cretaceous but molecular clocks suggest that neognaths originated sometime in the first half of the Late Cretaceous about 90 million year ago. Since then, they have undergone adaptive radiation producing the diversity of form, function, and behavior that we see today. It includes the order Passeriformes (perching birds), the largest clade of land vertebrates, containing some 60% of living birds and being more than twice as speciose as rodents and about five times as speciose as Chiroptera (bats), which are the largest clades of mammals. There are also some very small orders, usually birds of very unclear relationships like the puzzling hoatzin.

The neognaths have fused metacarpals, an elongate third finger, and 13 or fewer vertebrae. They differ from the Palaeognathae in features like the structure of their jawbones. "Neognathae" means "new jaws", but it seems that the supposedly "more ancient" paleognath jaws are among the few apomorphic (more derived) features of the Palaeognaths, meaning that the respective jaw structure of these groups is not informative in terms of comparative evolution.


In biology, phylogenetics (Greek: φυλή, φῦλον – phylé, phylon = tribe, clan, race + γενετικός – genetikós = origin, source, birth) is the study of the evolutionary history and relationships among individuals or groups of organisms (e.g. species, or populations). These relationships are discovered through phylogenetic inference methods that evaluate observed heritable traits, such as DNA sequences or morphology under a model of evolution of these traits. The result of these analyses is a phylogeny (also known as a phylogenetic tree) – a diagrammatic hypothesis about the history of the evolutionary relationships of a group of organisms. The tips of a phylogenetic tree can be living organisms or fossils, and represent the "end", or the present, in an evolutionary lineage. A phylogenetic tree can be rooted or unrooted. A rooted tree indicates the common ancestor, or ancestral lineage, of the tree. An unrooted tree makes no assumption about the ancestral line, and does not show the origin or "root" of the gene or organism in question. Phylogenetic analyses have become central to understanding biodiversity, evolution, ecology, and genomes.

Taxonomy is the identification, naming and classification of organisms. It is usually richly informed by phylogenetics, but remains a methodologically and logically distinct discipline. The degree to which taxonomies depend on phylogenies (or classification depends on evolutionary development) differs depending on the school of taxonomy: phenetics ignores phylogeny altogether, trying to represent the similarity between organisms instead; cladistics (phylogenetic systematics) tries to reproduce phylogeny in its classification without loss of information; evolutionary taxonomy tries to find a compromise between them.

Plant taxonomy

Plant taxonomy is the science that finds, identifies, describes, classifies, and names plants. It is one of the main branches of taxonomy (the science that finds, describes, classifies, and names living things).

Plant taxonomy is closely allied to plant systematics, and there is no sharp boundary between the two. In practice, "Plant systematics" involves relationships between plants and their evolution, especially at the higher levels, whereas "plant taxonomy" deals with the actual handling of plant specimens. The precise relationship between taxonomy and systematics, however, has changed along with the goals and methods employed.

Plant taxonomy is well known for being turbulent, and traditionally not having any close agreement on circumscription and placement of taxa. See the list of systems of plant taxonomy.


Sylviidae is a family of passerine birds that includes the typical warblers, parrotbills, the wrentit, and a number of babblers formerly placed within the Old World babbler family. They are found in Eurasia, Africa, and the west coast of North America.

Taxonomy (biology)

In biology, taxonomy (from Ancient Greek τάξις (taxis), meaning 'arrangement', and -νομία (-nomia), meaning 'method') is the science of naming, defining (circumscribing) and classifying groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics. Organisms are grouped together into taxa (singular: taxon) and these groups are given a taxonomic rank; groups of a given rank can be aggregated to form a super-group of higher rank, thus creating a taxonomic hierarchy. The principal ranks in modern use are domain, kingdom, phylum (division is sometimes used in botany in place of phylum), class, order, family, genus, and species. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is regarded as the founder of the current system of taxonomy, as he developed a system known as Linnaean taxonomy for categorizing organisms and binomial nomenclature for naming organisms.

With the advent of such fields of study as phylogenetics, cladistics, and systematics, the Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct.


The subfamily Theclinae is a group of butterflies, including the hairstreaks, elfins and allies, in the family Lycaenidae. There are many tropical species as well as a number found in the Americas. Tropical hairstreaks often have iridescent blue coloration above, caused by reflected light from the structure of the wing scales rather than by pigment. Hairstreaks from North America are commonly brown above. Few Theclinae are migratory. Members of this group are described as 'thecline'.

Population genetics
Of taxa
Of organs
Of processes
Tempo and modes
Hierarchy of life


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