Diversity in Living Organisms

4.1 Introduction
Have you ever thought of the multitude of life-forms that surround us?
Each organism is different from all others to a lesser or greater extent. For instance, consider yourself and a friend. Clearly, the movement to be made depends on the event that is triggering it. Are you both of the same height? Does your nose look exactly like your friend’s nose? Is your hand-span the same as your friend’s? However, if we were to compare ourselves and our friends with a monkey, what would we say? Obviously, we and our friends have a lot in common when we compare ourselves with a monkey. But suppose we were to add a cow to the comparison? We would then think that the monkey has a lot more in common with us than with the cow. But suppose we were to add a cow to the comparison? We would then think that the monkey has a lot more in common with us than with the cow.
We have heard of desi cows and Jersey cows. Does a desi cow look like a Jersey cow? Do all desi cows look alike? Will we be able to identify a Jersey cow in a crowd of desi cows that don’t look like each other? What is the basis of our identification? In this activity, we had to decide which characteristics were more important in forming the desired category. Hence, we were also deciding which characteristics could be ignored. Now, think of all the different forms in which life occurs on earth. On one hand we have microscopic bacteria of a few micrometre in size.
While on the other hand we have blue whale and red wood trees of California of approximate sizes of 30 metres and 100 metres respectively. Some pine trees live for thousands of years while insects like mosquitoes die within a few days. Life also ranges from colourless or even transparent worms to brightly coloured birds and flowers. This bewildering variety of life around us has evolved on the earth over millions of years. However, we do not have more than a tiny fraction of this time to try and understand all these living organisms, so we cannot look at them one by one. Instead, we look for similarities among the organisms, which will allow us to put them into different classes and then study different classes or groups as a whole. In order to make relevant groups to study the variety of life forms, we need to decide which characteristics decide more fundamental differences among organisms. This would create the main broad groups of organisms. Within these groups, smaller sub­groups will be decided by less important characteristics.
4.2 Basis of Classification

Aristotle Classification

Attempts at classifying living things into groups have been made since time immemorial. Greek thinker Aristotle classified animals according to whether they lived on land, in water or in the air. This is a very simple way of looking at life, but misleading too. For example, animals that live in the sea include corals, whales, octopuses, starfish and sharks. We can immediately see that these are very different from each other in numerous ways. In fact, their habitat is the only point they share in common. This is no good as a way of making groups of organisms to study and think about.
Requirements for Classification
We therefore need to decide which characteristics to be used as the basis for making the broadest divisions. Then we will have to pick the next set of characteristics for making sub-groups within these divisions. This process of classification within each group can then continue using new characteristics each time. Before we go on, we need to think about what is meant by ‘characteristics’. Characteristics – Its Meaning
When we are trying to classify a diverse group of organisms, we need to find ways in which some of them are similar enough to be thought of together. These ‘ways’, in fact, are details of appearance or behavior, in other words, form and function. What we mean by a characteristic is a particular form or a particular function. Most of us have five fingers on each hand is thus a characteristic. We can run, but the banyan tree cannot, is also a characteristic.
To understand how some characteristics are decided as being more fundamental than others, let us consider how a stone wall is built. The stones used will have different shapes and sizes. The stones at the top of the wall would not influence the choice of stones that come below them.
On the other hand, the shapes and sizes of stones in the lowermost layer will decide the shape and size of the next layer and so on. The stones in the lowermost layer are like the characteristics that decide the broadest divisions among living organisms. They are independent of any other characteristics in their effects on the form and function of the organism.
The characteristics in the next level would be dependent on the previous one and would decide the variety in the next level. In Diversity in Living Organisms this way, we can build up a whole hierarchy of mutually related characteristics to be used for classification. Now-a-days, we look at many inter-related characteristics starting from the nature of the cell in order to classify all living organisms.
What are some concrete examples of such characteristics used for a hierarchical classification?
Characteristics – Some Examples
• A eukaryotic cell has membrane-bound organelles, including a nucleus, which allow cellular processes to be carried out efficiently in isolation from each other. Therefore, organisms which do not have a clearly demarcated nucleus and other organelles would need to have their biochemical pathways organised in very different ways. This would have an effect on every aspect of cell design. Further, nucleated cells would have the capacity to participate in making a multicellular organism because they can take up specialised functions. Therefore, this is a basic characteristic of classification.
• Do the cells occur singly or are they grouped together and do they live as an indivisible group? Cells that group together to form a single organism use the principle of division of labour. In such a body design, all cells would not be identical. Instead, groups of cells will carry out specialised functions. This makes a very basic distinction in the body designs of organisms. As a result, an Amoeba and a worm are very different in their body design.
• Do organisms produce their own food through the process of photosynthesis? Being able to produce one’s own food versus having to get food from outside would make very different body designs necessary.
• Of the organisms that perform photosynthesis (plants), what is the level of organisation of their body?
We can see that, even in these few questions that we have asked, a hierarchy is developing. The characteristics of body design used for classification of plants will be very different from those important for classifying animals. This is because the basic designs are different, based on the need to make their own food (plants), or acquire it (animals). Therefore, these design features (having a skeleton, for example) are to be used to make sub-groups, rather than making broad groups.
4.3 Classification & Evolution
Basis for Classification
All living things are identified and categorised on the basis of their body design in form and function. Some characteristics are likely to make more wide-ranging changes in body design than others. So, once a certain body design comes into existence, it will shape the effects of all other subsequent design changes, simply because it already exists. In other words, characteristics that came into existence earlier are likely to be more basic than characteristics that have come into existence later. This means that the classification of life forms will be closely related to their evolution.
What is Evolution?
Most life forms that we see today have arisen by an accumulation of changes in body design that allow the organism possessing them to survive better.
Charles Darwin first described this idea of evolution in 1859 in his book, The Origin of Species. When we connect this idea of evolution to classification, we will find some groups of organisms which have ancient body designs that have not changed very much.
We will also find other groups of organisms that have acquired their particular body designs relatively recently.
Those in the first group are frequently referred to as primitive or lower organisms, while those in the second group are called advanced or higher organisms.
In reality, these terms are not quite correct since they do not properly relate to the differences. All that we can say is that some are Older organisms, while some are Younger organisms. 4.4 The Hierarchy of Classification-Groups
Biologists, such as Ernst Haeckel (1894), Robert Whittaker (1959) and Carl Woese (1977) have tried to classify all living organisms into broad categories, called kingdoms. Whittaker’s Classification The classification Whittaker proposed has five kingdoms: Monera, Protista, Fungi, Plantae and Animalia, and is widely used. These groups are formed on the basis of their cell structure, mode and source of nutrition and body organisation.
Woese Classfication
The modification Woese introduced by dividing the Monera into Archaebacteria (or Archaea) and Eubacteria (or Bacteria) is also in use.
Naming of Subgroups
Further classification is done by naming the sub-groups at various levels as given in the following scheme:
KingdomPhylum (for animals) / Division (for plants)Class orderFamilyGenus species
By separating organisms on the basis of a hierarchy of characteristics into smaller and smaller groups, we arrive at the basic unit of classification, which is a ‘species’. So what organisms can be said to belong to the same species? Broadly, a species includes all organisms that are similar enough to breed and perpetuate.
Organisms of this class do not have a defined nucleus or organelles, nor do any of them show multi-cellular body designs. Some of them have cell walls while some do not. The mode of nutrition of organisms in this group can be either by synthesising their own food (autotrophic) or getting it from the environment (heterotrophic). Examples

This group includes many kinds of unicellular eukaryotic organisms. Some of these organisms use appendages, such as hairlike cilia or whiplike flagella for moving around. Their mode of nutrition can be autotrophic or heterotrophic.
Examples : 

These are heterotrophic eukaryotic organisms. They use decaying organic material as food and are therefore called Saprophytes. Many of them have the capacity to become multicellular organisms at certain stages in their lives. They have cell-walls made of a tough complex sugar called chitin.

Some fungal species live in permanent mutually dependent relationships with blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria). Such relationships are called Symbiotic. These symbiobic life forms are called Lichens. We have all seen lichens as the slow-growing large coloured patches on the bark of trees.
These are multicellular eukaryotes with cell walls. They are autotrophs and use chlorophyll for photosynthesis. Thus, all plants are included in this group. Since plants and animals are most visible forms of the diversity of life around us, we will look at the subgroups in this category later.
These include all organisms which are multicellular eukaryotes without cell walls. They are heterotrophs. Again, we will look at their subgroups a little later in upcoming slides.
4.5 Plantae
The first level of classification among plants depends on whether the plant body has well-differentiated, distinct components. The next level of classification is based on whether the differentiated plant body has special tissues for the transport of water and other substances within it. Further classification looks at the ability to bear seeds and whether the seeds are enclosed within fruits.
Plants that do not have well-differentiated body design fall in this group. The plants in this group are commonly called algae. These plants are predominantly Aquatic.


These are called the amphibians of the plant kingdom. The plant body is commonly differentiated to form stem and leaf-like structures. However, there is no specialised tissue for the conduction of water and other substances from one part of the plant body to another.


In this group, the plant body is differentiated into roots, stem and leaves and has specialised tissue for the conduction of water and other substances from one part of the plant body to another.
Some examples are Marsilea, ferns and horse-tails.

The thallophytes, the bryophytes and the pteridophytes have naked embryos that are called Spores.
The reproductive organs of plants in all these three groups are very inconspicuous, and they are therefore called ‘cryptogamae’, or ‘those with hidden reproductive organs’.
On the other hand, plants with well-differentiated reproductive tissues that ultimately make seeds are called Phanerogams.
Seeds are the result of the reproductive process. They consist of the embryo along with stored food, which serves for the initial growth of the embryo during germination. This group is further classified, based on whether the seeds are naked or enclosed in fruits, giving us two groups: gymnosperms and angiosperms.
This term is made from two Greek words: gymno- means naked and sperma- means seed. The plants of this group bear naked seeds and are usually perennial, evergreen and woody.
Examples are pines, such as deodar.
This word is made from two Greek words: angio means covered and sperma- means seed. The seeds develop inside an organ which is modified to become a fruit. Cotyledons are called ‘seed leaves’ because in many instances they emerge and become green when the seed germinates. These are also called flowering plants. Plant embryos in seeds have structures called cotyledons. Thus, cotyledons represent a bit of pre-designed plant in the seed. The angiosperms are divided into two groups on the basis of the number of cotyledons present in the seed. Plants with seeds having a single cotyledon are called monocotyledonous or monocots. Plants with seeds having two cotyledons are called Dicots.
4.6 Animalia
These are organisms which are eukaryotic, multicellular and heterotrophic. Their cells do not have cell-walls. Most animals are mobile. They are further classified based on the extent and type of the body design differentiation found.
Porifera means organisms with holes. These are non-motile animals attached to some solid support. There are hole s or pores, all over the body. Some of these species live in colonies (corals), while others have a solitary like-span (Hydra). These lead to a canal system that helps in circulating water throughout the body to bring in food and oxygen. These animals are covered with a hard outside layer or skeleton. The body design involves very minimal differentiation and division into tissues. They are commonly called sponges, and are mainly found in marine habitats.
Jellyfish and sea anemones are common examples.

These are animals living in water. They show more body design differentiation. There is a cavity in the body. The body is made of two layers of cells: one makes up cells on the outside of the body, and the other makes the inner lining of the body. Some of these species live in colonies (corals), while others have a solitary like-span (Hydra).
Jellyfish and sea anemones are common examples.

The body of animals in this group is far more complexly designed than in the two other groups we have considered so far. The body is bilaterally symmetrical, meaning that the left and the right halves of the body have the same design. There are three layers of cells from which differentiated tissues can be made, which is why such animals are called triploblastic. This allows outside and inside body linings as well as some organs to be made. There is thus some degree of tissue formation. However, there is no true internal body cavity or coelom, in which well-developed organs can be accommodated. The body is flattened dorsiventrally, meaning from top to bottom, which is why these animals are called flatworms. They are either free-living or parasitic. Some examples are free-living animals like planarians, or parasitic animals like liver flukes.

Annelid animals are also bilaterally symmetrical and triploblastic, but in addition they have a true body cavity. This allows true organs to be packaged in the body structure. There is, thus, extensive organ differentiation This differentiation occurs in a segmental fashion, with the segments lined up one after the other from head to tail. These animals are found in a variety of habitats- fresh water, marine water as well as land.
Earthworms and leeches are familiar examples.

The nematode body is also bilaterally symmetrical and triploblastic. However, the body is cylindrical rather than flattened. There are tissues, but no real organs, although a sort of body cavity or a pseudo-coelom, is present. These are very familiar as parasitic worms causing diseases, such as the worms causing elephantiasis (filarial worms) or the worms in the intestines (roundworm or pinworms).

This is probably the largest group of animals. These animals are bilaterally symmetrical and segmented. There is an open circulatory system, and so the blood does not flow in well-defined blood vessels. The coelomic cavity is blood-filled. They have jointed legs (the word ‘arthropod’ means ‘jointed legs’).
Examples: Prawns, Butterflies, houseflies, spiders, scorpions and crabs.

In the animals of this group, there is bilateral symmetry. The coelomic cavity is reduced. There is little segmentation. There is a foot that is used for moving around.
Examples are snails and mussels.

In Greek, echinos means hedgehog, and derma means skin. Thus, these are spiny skinned organisms. These are exclusively free-living marine animals. They are triploblastic and have a coelomic cavity. They also have a peculiar water-driven tube system that they use for moving around. They have hard calcium carbonate structures that they use as a skeleton.
Examples: Starfish and sea urchins

These animals are bilaterally symmetrical, triploblastic and have a coelom. In addition, they show a new feature of body design, namely a notochord, at least at some stages during their lives. The notochord is a long rod-like support structure (chord=string) that runs along the back of the animal separating the nervous tissue from the gut. It provides a place for muscles to attach for ease of movement. Protochordates may not have a proper notochord present at all stages in their lives or for the entire length of the animal. Protochordates are marine animals.

Examples: Balanoglossus, Herdemania and Amphioxus
These animals have a true vertebral column and internal skeleton, allowing a completely different distribution of muscle attachment points to be used for movement.
Vertebrates are bilaterally symmetrical, triploblastic, coelomic and segmented, with complex differentiation of body tissues and organs.
All chordates possess the following features:
(i) have a notochord
(ii) have a dorsal nerve cord
(iii) are triploblastic
(iv) have paired gill pouches
(v) are coelomate.
Vertebrates are grouped into five classes.
(i) Pisces
(ii) Amphibia
(iii) Reptilia
(iv) Aves
(v) Mammals
These are fishes. They are exclusively water-living animals. Their skin is covered with scales/plates.
They obtain oxygen dissolved in water by using gills. The body is streamlined, and a muscular tail is used for movement. They are cold-blooded and their hearts have only two chambers, unlike the four that humans have. They lay eggs.
We can think of many kinds of fish, some with skeletons made entirely of cartilage, such as sharks, and some with a skeleton made of both bone and cartilage, such as tuna or rohu.

These animals differ from the fish in the lack of scales, in having mucus glands in the skin, and a three-chambered heart. Respiration is through either gills or lungs. They lay eggs. These animals are found both in water and on land.
Frogs, toads and salamanders are some examples

These animals are cold-blooded, have scales and breathe through lungs. While most of them have a three-chambered heart, crocodiles have four heart chambers. They lay eggs with tough coverings and do not need to lay their eggs in water, unlike amphibians.
Snakes, turtles, lizards and crocodiles fall in this category



These are warm-blooded animals and have a four-chambered heart.  They lay eggs. There is an outside covering of feathers, and two forelimbs are modified for flight. They breathe through lungs.

All birds fall in this category .

Mammals are warm-blooded animals with four-chambered hearts. They have mammary glands for the production of milk to nourish their young. Their skin has hairs as well as sweat and oil glands. Most mammals familiar to us produce live young ones.

However, a few of them, like the platypus and the echidna lay eggs, and some, like kangaroos give birth to very poorly developed young ones. Some examples are shown below.


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