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What Is Systematics?

by Dr. Joel Cracraft
Department of Ornithology
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, New York 10024

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Systematics has three main tasks: the discovery and description of biodiversity; understanding evolutionary relationships among species and groups of species; and organizing this information about relationships into predictive hierarchical classifications. The discovery and documentation of biodiversity takes place through systematic inventories, the results of which are conserved for future generations in the world's natural history collections. One of the key scientific concepts linking these efforts is that of the species. Understanding what we mean by species is crucial for describing biodiversity accurately and for advancing knowledge about the process that have produced and maintained species over time. Despite this critical role for species, very few issues in evolutionary biology have generated as much debate for so long as have species concepts. We will explore the implications of different species concepts for describing and understanding biodiversity and their implications for conservation biology

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