About Biodiversity Explorer
Biodiversity Explorer is devoted
to showing and explaining the diversity, biology and interactions of life in southern Africa (south of the
Kuneni and Zambezi rivers). Our approach is to
start with familiar organisms that we see or experience around us but which we
know little about, and use them as a springboard to examining more unfamiliar
topics. Coverage includes organisms known only from the fossil record as this is
an important part of the biodiversity story and helps us to understand the
origins of life we see today. There is a huge body of scientific research that underpins our
understanding of life on earth and the goal of Biodiversity Explorer is to draw
on this research and present it in an understandable and integrated way.
Biodiversity Explorer was first launched on
18 May 2000 (International Museums Day) and has been steadily growing in content
and profile since then.
Inevitably, we have not been able to cover
all species of life in southern Africa and you will find that some groups
are covered in more detail than others. Where possible, we link to other sites that
provide more detailed coverage of particular groups.
Dealing with all of biodiversity both past
and present, means that one has to draw on information from a wide variety of
disciplines including: microbiology, ecology, zoology, entomology,
marine biology, fisheries, botany, medicine, parsitology, agriculture,
horticulture and cookery.
The aim on this site has been to present a
natural classification of life such that the classification of each organism should
reflect its evolutionary history. Biological classification is in an exciting
state of turmoil at present because the relatively recent ability to analyse the
genes of organisms is providing a rich source of information for working out
relationships between organisms.
When one presents a natural classification,
it is difficult to designate groups to specific ranks. For instance, in
conventional classifications, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are each
designated as classes. However, in reflecting the natural classifcation of
birds, we find that they are classified as reptiles as well as birds because
they evolved from reptiles (they are in fact derived from dinosaurs). So birds
can't belong to both the class Aves and the class Reptilia. It all becomes a lot
simpler when one dispenses with ranks. In Biodiversity Explorer, ranks have been
dispensed with at the higher levels of classification. For the plants, for
instance, ranks are only employed from Order level downwards and this is because
plant classification uses these ranks in a consistent way. For animals, ranks
are usually only used from superfamily or family downwards.
People like the concept of grouping all
life into particular kingdoms. The five kingdom schema divides life into Monera
(prokaryotes), Protoctista (or Protista), Fungi, Animalia and Plantae. However,
evidence suggests strongly that Fungi, animals and plants evolved from within
the Protoctista and all eukaryotes (Protoctista, Fungi, Animalia and Plantae)
would have originally evolved from a prokaryote ancestor.