Kingdoms of Life

Plants and Animals


Plants are multicellular eukaryotes that are able to photosynthesize.

Plants are multicellular eukaryotes. The kingdom (second largest taxonomic grouping) Plantae contains autotrophs capable of making their own food. With few exceptions, plants are photosynthetic. They use a group of light-capturing pigments called chlorophylls to harness the sun's energy and use it to convert carbon dioxide and water into organic compounds. This process makes oxygen as a by-product, which helps to oxygenate the atmosphere. In addition, plants are critical in the recycling of carbon in the ecosystem, as photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Chlorophyll is also responsible for giving plants their green appearance. Chlorophyll is housed within organelles called chloroplasts, usually found inside leaf cells. Each plant cell is surrounded by a rigid polysaccharide-based wall, which offers protection but also limits the motility of the plant. Although plants can make their own organic compounds through photosynthesis, they must also perform cellular respiration to convert organic compounds into cellular energy.

As land plants evolved, they developed characteristics to reduce their dependence on water. Hardy spores allowed plants to reproduce outside of the water, a waxy outer coating protected plants from dehydration, and vascular tissue in later plants provided the ability to deliver water and nutrients throughout a tall body. Another major plant adaptation is the alternation of generations life cycle, which includes both diploid and haploid reproductive stages. Land plants are most familiar in their diploid sporophyte stage. Most plants reproduce sexually, but many are also able to reproduce asexually. Reproductive adaptations include the seed, which protects the plant embryo and allows it to travel or wait out harsh conditions. Flowering plants, which make up the most diverse plant group, use insects, birds, and other animals to assist with pollination and seed distribution. Fragrant, brightly colored flowers attract pollinating insects. Fruits entice birds and other animals to ingest plant seeds and distribute them in their waste. Plants are primarily grouped based on the presence or absence of vascular tissue, seeds, and flowers.
Plants have a life cycle called alternation of generations. As land plants evolved, the sporophyte stage became dominant, and the gametophyte stage became reduced. In later plants, the gametophyte became completely dependent on the sporophyte.


Animals are multicellular eukaryotes that consume other organisms for energy.
Animals are heterotrophic eukaryotes that must obtain carbon and energy from consuming other organisms. They are unable to photosynthesize, but there are a few examples of animals that form a symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic organisms. All animals are multicellular, and most contain specialized tissues and organs. The simplest animals, sponges, lack symmetry or movement. However, more recently evolved animals show radial (cylindrical, like a sea anemone) or bilateral (mirrored on either side of a mid-line, like an alligator) symmetry and are able to navigate their environment. Some have an incomplete gut (where food and wastes enter and exit through a single opening), and others have a full, one-way digestive system. Animals can have multiple tissue layers that become evident in the early development of the embryo, shortly after egg fertilization. Those with three tissue layers often have a fluid-filled body cavity, or coelom, which serves to protect the internal organs and can assist in movement. Animal reproduction is mostly sexual, but some species are able to reproduce asexually. The current classification of animals is primarily based on characteristics of embryonic development and whether or not the animal molts (sheds outer covering to make room for growth). The largest, most diverse group of living animals is insects.
Animals are multicellular, heterotrophic eukaryotes. Many animals are able to move in order to navigate their environments.