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Taxonomy, sometimes alpha taxonomy, is the science of finding, describing and naming organisms, thus giving rise to taxa.

Lilium hybrid "Stargazer"

For a long time the term "taxonomy" was unambiguous, but over time the word "taxonomy" gained several other meanings and thus became confusing. To some extent it is being replaced, in its original (and narrow) meaning, by "alpha taxonomy".

Another source of confusion is the relationship to systematics. The words "taxonomy" and "systematics" have a similar history and similar meanings: over time these have been used as synonyms, as overlapping or as completely complementary.

  • In today's usage, Taxonomy (as a science) deals with finding, describing and naming organisms. This science is supported by institutions holding collections of these organisms, with relevant data, carefully curated: such institutes include Natural History Museums, Herbaria and Botanical Gardens.
  • Systematics (as a science) deals with the relationships between taxa, especially at the higher levels. These days systematics is greatly influenced by data derived from DNA from mitochondria and chloroplasts. This is sometimes known as molecular systematics and is doing well, likely at the expense of taxonomy (Wheeler, 2004).

The species of butterfly called Morpho rhetenor helena

See also


  • Wheeler, Q. D. (2004). Taxonomic triage and the poverty of Phylogeny. Phil. Trans. Roy Soc. London, Biology 359: 571-583.

External links

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