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Systematics is the field of biology that deals with the diversity of life. It is the study of organisms living today and in the past, and of the relationships among these organisms. Systematics includes the areas of taxonomy and phylogenetics. Taxonomy is the naming, describing, and classification of all living organisms and fossils. Phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relationships among organisms. It is also the study of the physical and environmental settings in which evolutionary changes occurred.

Systematics is also an essential part of other fields such as biogeography (the mapping of where species occur), ecology (the study of the habitats and environmental factors that control where species occur), conservation biology, and the management of biological resources.

Systematists collect plants and animals, study them, and group them according to patterns of variation. Systematists study plants and animals in nature, laboratories, and museums. Some study the scientific basis of classifications so they can better understand evolution. Others study ever-changing aspects of nature, such as the processes that lead to new species or the ways that species interact. Other systematists study the human impact on the environment and on other species. Some systematists screen plants for compounds that can be used for drugs. Others are involved in controlling pests and diseases among plant and animal crops. Many systematists have teaching careers. They may work in colleges and universities. They teach classes, teach students how to conduct research, and conduct their own research in their particular area of interest. An important part of the research is writing up the results for publication.

Systematists are employed mostly by universities, museums, federal and state agencies, zoos, private industries, and botanical gardens. Universities with large plant or animal collections often hire systematists as curators to maintain the collections and conduct research on them. Federal and state agencies employ systematists in many fields including public health, agriculture, wildlife management, and forestry. Industries that employ systematists include agricultural processors, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, and commercial suppliers of plants and animals. Most jobs in government and industry center on taxonomy and ecology , rather than evolution issues.

At the high-school level, persons interested in becoming systematists should study math, chemistry, physics, biology, geology, English, writing, and computer studies. Although there are career opportunities for systematists with bachelor's degrees, most professionals have either a master's or doctoral (Ph.D.) degree. Undergraduate degrees can be obtained in biology, botany , or zoology. Graduate students focus specifically on systematics. They study taxonomy, population biology, genetics, evolution, ecology, biogeography, chemistry, computers, and statistics.

see also Morphology.

Denise Prendergast


Keeton, William T., James L. Gould, and Carol Grant Gould. Biological Science. 5th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993.

Internet Resources

American Society of Plant Taxonomists: <>.

Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology: <>.

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