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Classifying and identifying involves sorting objects or events into groups or categories. Clear systems (criteria) must be developed and used. Keys are often used as criteria to carry out a classifying process, for example, when identifying and naming plants.
If the criteria are changed, the groupings that result may be quite different and can lead to new scientific discoveries. For example, living things were initially divided into two kingdoms – plants and animals. When microorganisms were discovered and studied, changes were made to the classification system and the number of kingdoms. A five-kingdom classification system is now commonly used but is by no means the only system that might be applied as students explore and make sense of diversity.
Classification systems for stars and minerals use a different range of characteristics to distinguish and group specimens.
Examples of kairangahau Māori using classifying and identifying as part of their research
Researcher Dr Priscilla Wehi uses both mātauranga Māori and western science in her research into Aotearoa New Zealand’s ecological past.
Identification involves describing something in enough detail so that it could be recognised in a given context.
Classifying is an investigative approach that involves sorting objects or events into groups or categories.
Classification and identification are important because they allow us to better understand relationships and connections between things. They also help scientists to communicate clearly with each other.
From a te ao Māori perspective, whakapapa provides a way of grouping living and non-living things and understanding their connections.
Classification systems use different characteristics to distinguish and group the world around us – such as DNA, the number of legs or the hardness of a material.
Scientists classify for a reason, and this reason becomes part of the design of the classification system. For example, scientists may use identifying and classifying when trying to understand and protect an endangered species.
To group and classify, clear systems or criteria are developed and used. Keys often show us the criteria that are used to classify something, for example, when identifying and naming plants.
Sometimes, new discoveries lead us to change the criteria or system we are using. If the criteria are changed, the groupings that result may be quite different, and this itself can lead to new scientific thinking or discoveries.
For example, in the kingdom classification system, living things were initially divided into two kingdoms – plants and animals. When microorganisms were discovered and studied, changes were made to the classification system and to the number of kingdoms. A five-kingdom classification system is now commonly used but is by no means the only system that might be applied as we explore and make sense of diversity.
Dr Ashley Rowden and Dr Kareen Schnabel on the deck of RV Tangaroa sorting cold-seep samples. Still photographs courtesy of NIWA. Learn about the work to sample and identify cold seep communities in Exploring for cold-seep sites
Dating rocks near Whanganui. Dr Alan Beu, GNS Science
Importance of cold-seep research, Dr Kareen Schnabel, NIWA
Landcare Research’s national collections from Landcare Research’s insect collection. Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research (learn more about the work of Dr Peter Buchanan, fungi expert and Science Team Leader, Biosystematics, at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research)
Researching the link between genotype and phenotype. Professor Peter Dearden, University of Otago
Sprites and lightning from Natural terrestrial plasmas interactive
Honouring the tangata whenua. Pare from Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, New Zealand Arthropod Collection Ko te Aitanga Pepeke o Aotearoa Tāmaki. Carved by Denis Conway.
Stellar evolution chart, courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
Te taka pūmotu – the periodic table of elements, Morgan Hammerich
Cloud types, Valentin de Bruyn, CC BY-SA 3.0
Peripatus/ngāokeoke (Peripatoides novaezealandiae). Frupus, CC BY-NZ 2.0
Mohs scale of mineral hardness, box with minerals in each hardness of 1 to 10. Hannes Grobe, CC BY 3.0
Image of student sorting litter into categories used in Online citizen science meets environmental care. Dianne Christenson and the students of Koraunui School
Technician carrying out a pasture dissection, DairyNZ. Used in What is pasture? (identify some common pasture species in the interactive Common pasture plant species)
Giant kōkopu, Stella McQueen
Endangered waterfall frog (Litoria nannotis), Jodi J L Rowley, James Cook University
Takahē, Judi Lapsley Millar
Bryde’s whale, Aucklandwhale CC BY-SA 4.0
My interest in ferns, Dr Leon Perrie, Te Papa Tongarewa (read more about the work of botanists to refine the classification of ferns in Molecular analysis of ferns)
Types of plants, University of Waikato. Individual images courtesy of Stephen Finn, Adkana, Neville Gardner, Tony Foster, Jon Sullivan, CC BY 4.0
Dying kauri in ngahere, close-up of kauri dieback disease and Dr Stanley Bellgard in lab, from Project Mātauranga, Kauri Dieback: Death in the Ngahere, Scottie Productions
Diagram of Phytophthora agathidicida life cycle and four micrographs of oospores and sporangia. © 2019 The Authors. Phytophthora agathidicida: research progress, cultural perspectives and knowledge gaps in the control and management of kauri dieback in New Zealand. Plant Pathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Society for Plant Pathology, CC BY 4.0
Images from ‘Caroli Linnaei...Systema naturae’, sourced from Biodiversity Heritage Library
Portrait of Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek by Jan Verkolje Rijksmuseum, national museum of the Netherlands
Leeuwenhoek microscope replica, Jeroen Rouwkema, CC BY-SA 3.0
Sketch of Leeuwenhoek microscope (1756), Henry Baker. Read more about Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek.
Dr Tripti Singh inspects agar plates growing mould, Scion
Virus grouping diagrams, DNA viruses and RNA viruses