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Alpha taxonomy (or sometimes simply taxonomy) is the science of finding, describing and categorising organisms, thus leading to the recognition of proposed taxonomic groups, or taxa (singular: taxon), which may then be named.

In traditional Linnaean taxonomy, the seven major taxonomic groupings are Kingdom, Phylum or Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Each may have several super- or sub-groupings. Alpha taxonomy, however, focuses more on the species end of that spectrum (e.g., classifying organisms [specimens] into species groups, and classifying those into genera, rather than determining the higher-level relationships between families or orders).

For a long time the term "taxonomy" was unambiguous, but over time it has gained several other meanings and thus became potentially confusing. To some extent it is being replaced, in its original (and narrow) meaning, by "alpha taxonomy". As such, alpha taxonomy deals mostly with real organisms: species and lower ranking taxa. Higher ranking taxa (including clades and grades) mostly are the province of systematics.

The relationship between "taxonomy" and "systematics" is a potential source of confusion. These words have a similar history: over time these have been used as synonyms, as overlapping or as completely complementary.
  • In today's usage, Taxonomy (as a science) deals with finding, describing and naming organisms. This science is supported by institutions holding collections of these organisms, with relevant data, carefully curated: such institutes include Natural History Museumsmarker, Herbaria and Botanical Gardens.
  • Systematics (as a science) deals with the relationships between taxa, especially at the higher levels. These days systematics is greatly influenced by data derived from DNA from nuclei, mitochondria and chloroplasts. This is sometimes known as molecular systematics which is becoming increasingly more common, perhaps at the expense of traditional taxonomy (Wheeler, 2004).




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