Biology, Botany, Zoology and Earth Sciences
Biology is the study of all living organisms whether microscopic bacteria, giant whales, or Sequoia trees. Two subdivisions of biology—botany and zoology—have separate sections in this chapter. As with all science disciplines, biology can be subdivided into many specialized fields which include:
- Cell biology—the study of the individual cells that make up whole organisms.
- Ecology—the study of organisms in relation to their environment.
- Embryology—the study of the early development of organisms.
- Evolution—the study of the historical development of organisms.
- Genetics—the study of the genes and heredity of organisms.
- Morphology—the study of the form and structure of organisms.
- Physiology—the study of all the vital functions of organisms that makes them total and unique.
- Taxonomy—the systematic naming of living organisms.
The prefix “bio” means “life” or “living organism.” Science dictionaries list many entries with this prefix, including bioacoustics, bioassay, biocatalyst, biocenology, biochemistry, biocide, biodiversity, bioelectronics, biofeedback, biogenesis, biogeography, biomass, biostatistics, biotic, and biozone. As with other science categories, the boundaries of biology fade as technology and other fields of science become involved in biological research.
The reference sources for biology appear with new editions on a fairly regular basis. Access to the world’s research is found through Biological Abstracts. Dictionaries and encyclopedias are numerous and handbooks are very important.
The term “botany” comes from the Greek for “herb,” botanikas, which signifies that part of biology concerned with plants. Botany includes the study of plants’ physical and chemical makeup, evolution, environmental impact, and interaction with other organisms. Researchers may study the genetic relationships between plants, the growth and development of plants in hostile environments, ways to protect crops from diseases and pests, and new methods for increasing crop yields. Of primary concern to researchers are methods for growing plants without chemicals, producing hardier crops, maintaining rain forests, and protecting endangered species. Botanists generally study either the function and development of plants, or they study plants by types. There is a lot overlap between the distinctions, however, and studying functions and development of the total plant community (or type) is not unusual.
The function and development of plants are studied in these fields:
- Plant anatomy—the physical makeup of the plant.
- Plant chemistry—the chemical processes that occur in plants.
- Plant cytology—the study of the plant cells.
- Plant embryology—the study of plant development from seeds.
- Plant genetics—the evolution of plants.
- Plant physiology—the study of how plants function and grow.
- Plant taxonomy—the systematic naming of plants.
- Ethnobotany—the study of the physical differences between plants.
- Paleobotany—the study of fossil plants.
For the study of plants by type of plant, there are
- Agrostology—the study of grasses.
- Algology or phycology—the study of algae.
- Bryology—the study of mosses.
- Mycology—the study of fungi.
- Pteridology—the study of ferns.
For reference purposes, a large number of sources identify plants. Detailed field guides, handbooks, and encyclopedias are important to researchers and laypeople alike, and taxonomic dictionaries are essential. Biological Abstracts is the main source for accesses the research literature.
Zoology is the branch of biology that deals with all animals from the microscopic to the wales. The study of zoology is based on the structure and function of the animal, usually broken down to a particular class. These structures and functions include
- Physiology—the living processes that make up the whole animal.
- Embryology—the development and new life of animals.
- Genetics—the area of heredity and variation.
- Parasitology—animals living in or on other animals.
- Natural History—behavior of animals in nature.
- Ecology—relation of animals to their environment.
- Evolution—origin and differentiation of animal life.
- Taxonomy—classification and naming of animals.
As experts, zoologists may cover a particular class of animal:
- Entomology—the study of insects.
- Ichthyology—the study of fishes.
- Ornithology—the study of birds.
- Mammalogy—the study of mammals.
- Herpetology—the study of snakes, lizards, crocodiles, turtles, dinosaurs, frogs, toads, and salamanders.
Zoology is intriguing to most individuals because of the wide variety of exotic animals that live on this planet. The literature that has accumulated through the years is voluminous and the access has become more and more sophisticated. Biological Abstracts continues, however, to be the primary source for searching this literature. Handbooks are numerous, but field guides and encyclopedias predominate.
Earth sciences covers all of the disciplines concerned with the earth’s origin, composition, physical features, and atmosphere. It encompasses all the forces that have changed and are changing its makeup. It is related to cosmology, the study of how the universe has evolved, because clues about the origins of things in space provide information about how the earth itself was formed. Earth sciences also include the study of physical geography, which is called geomorphology, the study of landforms, their description, classification, origin, history, and ongoing changes. Subfields of geomorphology include glaciology, soil mechanics, remote sensing, fluvial geology, karst landscapes, and to some extent, cartography.
By far the largest branch of earth sciences, geology is the study of the planet from its beginning to its future. The term “geology,” however, is now considered too restrictive and has been replaced with geoscience. Other disciplines within earth sciences are:
- Geochemistry—the study of chemical processes within the geological process.
- Geodesy—the science of surveying and mapping the earth’s surface.
- Geophysics—the study of the physical forces on and within the earth.
- Mineralogy—the study of minerals found in the earth.
- Petrology—the study of the three types of rocks found in and on earth: igneous or volcanic, metamorphic or pressure changed, and sedimentary or eroded.
- Meteorology—the study of the atmosphere which includes Climatology or the study of the climates.
- Oceanography—study of seas and oceans, including the shores and beaches, subsurface rocks and sediments, waves and related forces, chemistry, and all life that depends on the oceans and seas for survival.
- Paleontology—the study of all fossil life, including Paleobotany, Paleozoology, Invertebrate Paleontology, and Micropaleontology.
- Hydrology—the study of the forces of water on the earth.
- Stratigraphy—the study of the layers of sediments that make up the surface of the earth.
- Economic Geology—the study of all materials that are mined from the earth.
Because earth sciences is a popular discipline for the layperson, guidebooks to landforms and fossils abound. The Bibliography and Index of Geology is the major indexing service for this discipline.