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Queensland Museum
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01. ENVIRONMENTS

1(a) Queensland Biodiversity

Biodiversity (biological diversity) refers to the sum total of all life forms on Earth, the genes they carry, and the natural communities and ecosystems they form. Queensland has the greatest biodiversity of any Australian state, containing about 70% of Australia's mammals, 80% of its birds, 50% of its reptiles and frogs, and an unknown proportion of all invertebrate phyla. (Invertebrates are animals without backbones.) Several of these organisms are being investigated for potential bioactive chemicals that can be used to treat specific human diseases or medical conditions. The quest for these chemicals is referred to as Biodiscovery.

To make some sense of this great biodiversity, organisms are grouped into categories. Scientists recognise three Domains and six Kingdoms which can be further subdivided into several phyla, (singular: phylum) and into further divisions such as class, order, family, genus and species.

The three Domains of Life are:

  1. Archaea – primitive bacteria or prokaryotes that have DNA sequences different from other bacteria. They include the ‘extremophiles’, that is, bacteria that live in extreme habitats such as methanogens, halophiles, acidophiles and thermophiles.
  2. Bacteria – this includes cyanobacteria and Eubacteria or ‘True Bacteria’. This group contains prokaryotes: organisms that do not possess a nuclear membrane.
  3. Eukaryota – this includes organisms that do possess membrane-bounded nuclei, and other structures such as mitochondria and chloroplasts. This group contains the Protists, Plants, Fungi and Animals.

The six Kingdoms are:

  1. Archaebacteria - the Archaea bacteria which form one of the Domains of Life.
  2. Eubacteria - true bacteria and cyanobacteria.
  3. Protista - single-celled organisms such as algae and Protozoans.
  4. Fungi - uni-cellular and multicellular fungi, yeasts and moulds.
  5. Plantae - multicellular plants.
  6. Animalia - multicellular animals.

Tree of Life. Adapted with permission from Green Nature. http://www.greennature.ca

Tree of Life. Adapted with permission from Green Nature. http://www.greennature.ca/

Pink golf ball sponge

Pink golf ball sponge, Cinachyrella schulzei, from the Great Barrier Reef. Its formal classification is:

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Porifera
Class: Demospongiae
Order: Spirophorida
Family: Tetillidae
Genus: Cinachyrella
Species: schulzei
Image: Dr. John Hooper, QM.

Many areas within Queensland have been recognised internationally as having World Heritage value, such as the Wet Tropics, the Great Barrier Reef and the Riversleigh fossil field. However, considerable numbers of various animal groups living in these areas remain unrecorded and there are probably many still awaiting discovery. Researchers at the Queensland Museum are involved in identifying and classifying organisms, naming new species as they are discovered, and unravelling aspects of their biology, ecology, and evolution.

A large proportion of animals on the reef and sea floor are invertebrates. That is, they do not have a backbone. Some such as clams, have their body plan designed around a single axis that splits the organism into two identical halves (bilateral symmetry), while others such as sea urchins, starfish and many brain corals have a body plan designed around several axes (radial symmetry).

You may like to collect some invertebrates and complete an activity called Investigating Invertebrates, and do the Classification Challenge in the For Teachers section.

Useful web link: History of Life through Time, University of California, Museum of Palaeontology.


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