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In biology morphology is the form, structure and configuration of an organism.[1][2] This includes aspects of the outward appearance (shape, structure, colour, pattern)[citation needed] as well as the form and structure of the internal parts like bones and organs. This is in contrast to physiology, which deals primarily with function.

Morphology is a branch of life science dealing with the study of gross structure of an organism or taxon and its component parts.


The term of Morphology is from Greek μορφή, morphé = shape, form and λόγος, lógos = word, study, reserch. The concept of Morphology is devised by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1790) and independently by a German anatomist and physiologist de:Karl Friedrich Burdach (1800).

In the Anglo-American language-area, they talk even "molecular morphology" since some years, as the shape-description of macro-molecules like ribosomaler RNA. In German-language countries they reserved the morphology term for structures above the molecular level.

Also in use is the term "gross morphology", which refers to the prominent or principal aspects of an organism or taxon's morphology. A description of an organism's gross morphology would include, for example, its overall shape, overall colour, main markings etc. but not finer details.

branches of morphology

  • With the comparative morphology they try to recognize patterns as well as characteristics of an orgamism group, and if necessary, they classify organisms into taxa by derived from its characteristics.
  • Functional morphology is it to examine a structure for a certain function.
  • Experimental morphology usually researches the development of an organism in condition of experiments.

On the other hand, it can be subdivided into two distinct branches:

  • Anatomy is the study of the structure and internal organs of an organism.
  • The study of the external appearance of an organism is called eidonomy, but while predominant early in the history of biology it is little studied anymore as it is ripe with the effects of convergent evolution. It thus yields less new information about organisms than anatomy, and therefore the external appearance of lifeforms is usually studied as part of general investigations in morphology, e.g. in the context of phylogenetic research.

morphology and classification

Most taxa differ morphologically from other taxa. Typically, closely related taxa differ much less than more distantly related ones, but there are exceptions to this. Cryptic species are species which look very similar, or perhaps even outwardly identical, but are reproductively isolated. Conversely, sometimes unrelated taxa acquire similar appearance through convergent evolution or even through mimicry. A further problem with relying on morphological data is that what may appear, morphologically speaking, to be two distinct species, may in fact be shown by DNA analysis to be a single species.

See also


  1. Morphology. URL accessed on 2009-04-09.
  2. morphology. Encyclopædia Britannica. URL accessed on 2009-04-09.
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