What is biological classification? (with photos)

Some anthropologists separate various populations of Homo erectus into different species, including Homo ergaster.

Biological classification is a system used to organize and code all life on Earth. There are several goals for biological classification, in addition to the obvious need to be able to accurately describe organisms. Creating a classification system allows scientists to examine the relationships between various organisms and build evolutionary trees to explore the origins of life on Earth and the relationship of modern organisms to historical examples. You may also hear the biological classification called “taxonomy”.

Chimpanzees are in the family Hominidae..

Humans have been naming organisms for a long time and have been trying to organize life on Earth into understandable categories for almost as long. A variety of systems were developed at various times, with various drawbacks and bonuses. The biological classification system used today was developed by Linnaeus, an 18th century scientist, although it has been refined extensively over the centuries to reflect new information in the sciences.

Eubacteria were classified as one of the six kingdoms before the introduction of the Woese system.

The biological classification system divides organisms into a variety of taxonomic categories or classifications, starting with domains, the highest order of life. There are three domains: Eukaryota, Eubacteria and Archaea. After the domains are the kingdoms, which are divided into phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. The development of higher-order domains is relatively recent compared to the rest of taxonomic classifications, and not all scientists agree on or use domains in biological classification. It is also possible to see subsets of these basic classifications that are used to distinguish subtle differences.

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All organisms can be coded using biological classification. Organisms are linked together by similarities and separated by differences that are highlighted by the abundance of choices in each taxonomic classification. Using a specific epithet or scientific name that includes the formal terms for genus and species also ensures that people know exactly which organism is under discussion.

To illustrate how taxonomic classification works, it may be helpful to separate biological classification from a known organism: humans. Working from the top down, humans are in the Eukaryota domain and Animalia kingdom, which places them with other multicellular eukaryotic organisms, from cats to cows. The human phylum is Chordata, indicating that they possess an anatomical structure called a notochord during the early stages of their development, and they are in the class Mammalia, along with other animals that give birth to live young and suckle their young with milk.

Humans are in the order of primates, placing them in a large group of animals with similar biological adaptations, and in the family Hominidae, along with chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. The scientific epithet for humans, Homo sapiens sapiens, includes both genus and species, as well as for all organisms, along with a subspecies. The use of a subspecies distinguishes between humans who are genetically distinct enough to be different but are still capable of interbreeding. Other subspecies of humans are extinct, but archaeological evidence suggests that several subspecies may have coexisted at some point in history.

For people who are knowledgeable about biological classification and the properties of each taxonomic classification, each rung on the taxonomic classification ladder reveals more information about humans. Just by knowing that humans are in the realm of Eukaryotes, for example, a scientist knows that humans have a cellular structure that includes specialized structures, including a cell nucleus, within a protective membrane.

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