Collecting insects, Henbury Bush Blitz
Exploring the Biosphere
Just as astronomers explore the universe, so taxonomists explore the biosphere, from rainforests to deserts, from coral reefs to the Antarctic, and from mountaintops to the ocean floor.
And just as astronomers seek to understand how the universe formed, taxonomists and biosystematists seek to understand the evolution of life on Earth, from deep time to the present and future.
Our exploration of life on Earth is far from complete. Many new species remain to be found, and not only in remote regions or in the depths of the sea. There are undoubtedly undiscovered species – from fungi to spiders and beetles – living in your own backyard.
Exploring the structure of life
Life has a rich and deep structure, because all species are related, from the smallest microbes to blue whales and giant mountain ash trees. The relationships of living organisms are portrayed in 'family trees' called phylogenies.
Exploring and describing the phylogeny of all living things is an important part taxonomy and biosystematics. With new tools and concepts, from DNA analyses to high-end computing, taxonomists and biosystematists can explore the tree of life and the relationships of the world's organisms in exquisite detail.
There has never been a more exciting time for the structure of life and its evolution.
A phylogeny of the world's dinosaurs
Palaeontologist Kate Whitley with a fossil mosasaur skull.
Photo: GNS Science
Exploring the past
To thoroughly understand life on Earth, taxonomists explore the past as well as the present.
Some taxonomists study fossils, from giant dinosaurs to microscopic pollen grains. Others study the movements of continents and the organisms that live on them through deep time, to understand the evolution of Earth and its life. Still others study plants, animals, fungi and microbes alive today, and from an understanding of their relationships infer an understanding of their long-extinct ancestors.
Understanding past life helps understand life today, and both help us predict the future of life on Earth.