Definition of Systematics

B.J.Tindall bti at DSMZ.DE
Tue Apr 18 09:02:39 CDT 2006

Dear Amy,
there are certainly short answers, but Mayr, in Systematic Zoology, 1969
gave the following definition:

"In actuality systematics is one of the major subdivisions of biology,
broader in base than genetics or biochemistry. It includes not only the
service functions of identifying and classifying but the comparative study
of sll aspects of organisms, as well as interpretation of the role of lower
and higher taxa in the economy of nature and evolutionary history. It is a
synthesis of many kinds of knowledge, theory, and method applied to all
aspects of classification. The ultimate task of the systematist is not only
to describe the diversity of the living world but also contribute to its

Nearly 40 years on, one could include reference to topics such as genomics,
gene expressions and regulation etc. in the first line without
significantly altering the significance of systematics. In addition I would
say that "diversity" is not limited to what species are present where, but
the diversity of genes, proteins etc which all contribute to the
"diversity" of the living world. Intersting to note that Mayr uses the term
"evolutionary history" and not "phylogenetics".

Systematics not only applies to plants and animals, but also to other
organims which may, not necessarily be "plant or animal" (prokaryotes,
mycota, protists.... ;-)

At 15:32 14.04.06 -0400, Amy Rossman wrote:
>Communicating about the importance of systematics to non-specialists is
difficult.  Does
>anyone have any thoughts on a good definition that is understood by the
lay public?
>Here are a few to comment on:
>Systematics is the study of biological diversity.  It is the science
>that characterizes, classifies and names organisms based on their
>Systematics is the science that identifies and groups organisms by their
>Systematics is the science that unifies biology through an understanding
>of the origins, relationships and distribution of animal and plant
>Systematics is the science of discovering, organizing and interpreting
>biological diversity.
>Amy Y. Rossman, Research Leader
>Systematic Botany & Mycology Laboratory
>Rm. 304, B011A
>10300 Baltimore Ave.
>Beltsville, MD 20705
>tel. 301-504-5364
>fax 301-504-5810

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