In Biological Sciences .
Systematics is the scientific study of the diversity of living things and of the relationships among them. As such the field spans a broad range of related areas, including phylogeny, evolution, and classification. Systematics involves studies of all kinds of living organisms, including bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals, as well as long-extinct species known only from fossils. Human uses of plants and animals are also investigated by systematists. Research in systematics is performed in the field, from tropical rain forests to the arctic, as well as in the laboratory, where traditional tools as well as those of molecular biology are used.
The concentration in Systematics and Biotic Diversity is designed to introduce students interested in the diversity of the living world to several facets of this eclectic field. The course requirements are drawn from two complementary areas. The courses identified as Group A deal with taxonomic diversity. These courses provide opportunities to learn about the variation that exists within particular groups of organisms, and about the history of diversification in those groups, as reflected in phylogenies that link their species. Courses in Group B build upon the basic ideas presented in many of the Group A courses, and explore the various theoretical and technical underpinnings of systematics. These courses cover such topics as evolution, the fossil record, molecular approaches to studying variation, and phylogenetic theory. Because hands-on familiarity with organisms is an essential part of systematics, participation in two courses that include a laboratory is expected.
Faculty teaching these courses belong to several different departments in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. All are involved in original research, and many include undergraduates as well as graduate students in their research programs. The organisms they study encompass the entire tree of life, and the topics on which their research focuses are comparably broad: taxonomy, paleontology/paleobotany, DNA sequence evolution, development, comparative and functional morphology, chemical ecology, population genetics, and bacterial physiology, to list a few.
The range of career choices for students who specialize in systematics is also broad. Many students go on to graduate school, where they specialize in studies of a particular group of organisms, and continue their research from a university base. Others are based in the world’s botanical gardens, zoological parks, and museums, as on-site curators or as collectors stationed in often exotic locales. With the increased public awareness of vanishing biodiversity, still others find employment as scientific or popular writers, consultants assessing taxonomic diversity for ecological impact statements, or biological prospectors searching for plants and animals of economic or medical significance.