Organizing the living world

Organizing the living world - Organizing the living world...

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Organizing the living world Introduction and some basic terminology Since the dawn of humankind it would seem that we have been categorizing and grouping things in one way or another. For early humans what was a potential meal, or what other animals saw them as a potential meal, was a matter of survival in an eat, or be eaten world. Plants that had medicinal properties or edible seeds were as equally important as was being able to tell the difference between the two. Humans organize information by grouping it. That’s what classification is all about; grouping things together, usually by using some sort of logical scheme. Stamp collectors may organize their stamps by countries, hockey card collectors the teams. You may organize your CD’s alphabetically by artist, musical type, or even the favourites at the top of the pile and the less liked at the bottom. When rules are applied to how things are organized into different categories we have a taxonomy. Taxonomies are all about using a set of rules to create an organized collection. In biology if the rule is evolutionary descent then we have systematics showing the common ancestors and evolutionary relationships between the different groups. Another thing that we do, often without realising it, is we create nested categories inside larger groups. A football card collector could have three leagues, two American and one Canadian, and this may be the first category and each of these could contain cards from the different teams (a subcategory) and finally the cards for each of the players on the different teams. Another example is how you organize files on your computer. Hopefully you don’t leave them in the root directory but instead create folders – perhaps one for all your courses this semester. Inside that folder may be folders for the different courses that you take and inside the course folders may be even more folders for notes, assignments and lecture materials. In both these examples we have a nested, or hierarchical arrangement. So how does all of this relate to the how biologists organize the diversity of organisms that inhabit the planet earth? Biologists organize and group individual organisms into sets, taxa, and these sets are then grouped into even larger categories that are then be grouped into even larger categories much like the little Russian wooden nesting dolls (Matryoshka dolls) that are nested one inside the other. Each organism has its own name, as do each of the different levels at which the groupings are made. For biology students it’s often confusing and the use of Latin and Greek names only makes it all that much more confusing. Let’s take a look at how taxonomies in biology have changed.
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Types of taxonomies If taxonomy is how rules are used to classifying things, then you can probably guess that, over time, there have been a variety of different taxonomic schemes, and rules, to organize the natural world. But what you might not realise is that classification isn’t
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This note was uploaded on 12/03/2011 for the course SCIENCE BIO1130 taught by Professor Fenwick during the Spring '11 term at University of Ottawa.

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Organizing the living world - Organizing the living world...

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