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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 Museum Day) and has been steadily growing in content and profile since then. Together with Waspweb and Figweb, it is one of three biodiversity websites being developed by the Natural History Collections Department of Iziko Museums of South Africa.

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.

 

Classification

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.

 

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