Names of organisms

This section provides basic information about the names of plants, animals and other organisms, and how to present and use them in scientific and other texts.

There has been a longstanding convention of identifying and naming organisms using mainly morphological features (taxonomic classification). Increasingly, phylogenetic classification is being used as an alternative to taxonomic classification. Phylogenetic classification is based on the evolutionary history and relationships among individuals or groups of organisms (eg species or populations), identified through studying heritable traits, such as DNA sequences or morphology. The result is a diagrammatic hypothesis (phylogenetic tree) that presents the evolutionary relationships of a group of organisms. Nodes on the tree are called clades (a group of organisms with a common ancestor). See the International Code of Phylogenetic Nomenclature (PhyloCode), which is maintained by the Committee on Phylogenic Nomenclature, for clade terminology. The Tree of Life project includes phylogenetic information about life on Earth.

The initial 2 sections provide:

These general principles are followed by specific information for:

Did you know? Prefixes and suffixes in scientific and medical terms are derived from Greek and Latin. Many prefixes include an o if their partner term begins with a consonant (eg dermatology = dermat + logy), but not if the partner term begins with a vowel (eg dermatitis = dermat + itis). More detail and additional terms can be found in the a list of terms from the United States National Library of Medicine.

Phylogeny versus taxonomy

Increasingly, phylogenetic classification of organisms is being used as an alternative to taxonomic classification (ie the identification and naming of organisms). Phylogenetic classification is based on the evolutionary history and relationships among individuals or groups of organisms (eg species or populations), identified through studying heritable traits, such as DNA sequences or morphology. The result is a diagrammatic hypothesis (phylogenetic tree) that presents the evolutionary relationships of a group of organisms. Nodes on the tree are called clades (a group of organisms with a common ancestor).

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