In biology, a phylum (//; plural: phyla) is a level of classification or taxonomic rank below Kingdom and above Class. Traditionally, in botany the term division has been used instead of phylum, although the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants accepts the terms as equivalent. Depending on definitions, the animal kingdom Animalia or Metazoa contains approximately 32 phyla, the plant kingdom Plantae contains about 14, and the fungus kingdom Fungi contains about 8 phyla. Current research in phylogenetics is uncovering the relationships between phyla, which are contained in larger clades, like Ecdysozoa and Embryophyta.
The term phylum was coined in 1866 by Ernst Haeckel from the Greek phylon (φῦλον, "race, stock"), related to phyle (φυλή, "tribe, clan"). In plant taxonomy, August W. Eichler (1883) classified plants into five groups named divisions, a term that remains in use today for groups of plants, algae and fungi. The definitions of zoological phyla have changed from their origins in the six Linnaean classes and the four embranchements of Georges Cuvier.
Informally, phyla can be thought of as groupings of organisms based on general specialization of body plan. At its most basic, a phylum can be defined in two ways: as a group of organisms with a certain degree of morphological or developmental similarity (the phenetic definition), or a group of organisms with a certain degree of evolutionary relatedness (the phylogenetic definition). Attempting to define a level of the Linnean hierarchy without referring to (evolutionary) relatedness is unsatisfactory, but a phenetic definition is useful when addressing questions of a morphological nature—such as how successful different body plans were.
Definition based on genetic relation
The most important objective measure in the above definitions is the "certain degree" that defines how different organisms need to be to be members of different phyla. The minimal requirement is that all organisms in a phylum should be clearly more closely related to one another than to any other group. Even this is problematic because the requirement depends on knowledge of organisms' relationships: as more data become available, particularly from molecular studies, we are better able to determine the relationships between groups. So phyla can be merged or split if it becomes apparent that they are related to one another or not. For example, the bearded worms were described as a new phylum (the Pogonophora) in the middle of the 20th century, but molecular work almost half a century later found them to be a group of annelids, so the phyla were merged (the bearded worms are now an annelid family). On the other hand, the highly parasitic phylum Mesozoa was divided into two phyla (Orthonectida and Rhombozoa) when it was discovered the Orthonectida are probably deuterostomes and the Rhombozoa protostomes.
This changeability of phyla has led some biologists to call for the concept of a phylum to be abandoned in favour of cladistics, a method in which groups are placed on a "family tree" without any formal ranking of group size.
Definition based on body plan
A definition of a phylum based on body plan has been proposed by paleontologists Graham Budd and Sören Jensen (as Haeckel had done a century earlier). The definition was posited because extinct organisms are hardest to classify: they can be offshoots that diverged from a phylum's line before the characters that define the modern phylum were all acquired. By Budd and Jensen's definition, a phylum is defined by a set of characters shared by all its living representatives.
This approach brings some small problems—for instance, ancestral characters common to most members of a phylum may have been lost by some members. Also, this definition is based on an arbitrary point of time: the present. However, as it is character based, it is easy to apply to the fossil record. A greater problem is that it relies on a subjective decision about which groups of organisms should be considered as phyla.
The approach is useful because it makes it easy to classify extinct organisms as "stem groups" to the phyla with which they bear the most resemblance, based only on the taxonomically important similarities. However, proving that a fossil belongs to the crown group of a phylum is difficult, as it must display a character unique to a sub-set of the crown group. Furthermore, organisms in the stem group of a phylum can possess the "body plan" of the phylum without all the characteristics necessary to fall within it. This weakens the idea that each of the phyla represents a distinct body plan.
Total numbers are estimates; figures from different authors vary wildly, not least because some are based on described species, some on extrapolations to numbers of undescribed species. For instance, around 25,000–27,000 species of nematodes have been described, while published estimates of the total number of nematode species include 10,000–20,000; 500,000; 10 million; and 100 million.
|Phylum||Meaning||Common name||Distinguishing characteristic||Species described|
|Acanthocephala||Thorny head||Thorny-headed worms:278||Reversible spiny proboscis that bears many rows of hooked spines||approx. 1,100|
|Annelida||Little ring:306||Annelids||Multiple circular segment||17,000+ extant|
|Arthropoda||Jointed foot||Arthropods||Segmented bodies and jointed limbs, with Chitin exoskeleton||1,250,000+ extant; 20,000+ extinct|
|Brachiopoda||Arm foot:336||Lampshells:336||Lophophore and pedicle||300-500 extant; 12,000+ extinct|
|Bryozoa||Moss animals||Moss animals, sea mats, ectoprocts:332||Lophophore, no pedicle, ciliated tentacles, anus outside ring of cilia||6,000 extant|
|Chaetognatha||Longhair jaw||Arrow worms:342||Chitinous spines either side of head, fins||approx. 100 extant|
|Chordata||With a cord||Chordates||Hollow dorsal nerve cord, notochord, pharyngeal slits, endostyle, post-anal tail||approx. 55,000+|
|Cnidaria||Stinging nettle||Cnidarians||Nematocysts (stinging cells)||approx. 16,000|
|Ctenophora||Comb bearer||Comb jellies:256||Eight "comb rows" of fused cilia||approx. 100-150 extant|
|Cycliophora||Wheel carrying||Symbion||Circular mouth surrounded by small cilia, sac-like bodies||3+|
|Echinodermata||Spiny skin||Echinoderms:348||Fivefold radial symmetry in living forms, mesodermal calcified spines||approx. 7,500 extant; approx. 13,000 extinct|
|Entoprocta||Inside anus:292||Goblet worms||Anus inside ring of cilia||approx. 150|
|Gastrotricha||Hairy stomach:288||Gastrotrich worms||Two terminal adhesive tubes||approx. 690|
|Gnathostomulida||Jaw orifice||Jaw worms:260||approx. 100|
|Hemichordata||Half cord:344||Acorn worms, hemichordates||Stomochord in collar, pharyngeal slits||approx. 130 extant|
|Kinorhyncha||Motion snout||Mud dragons||Eleven segments, each with a dorsal plate||approx. 150|
|Loricifera||Corset bearer||Brush heads||Umbrella-like scales at each end||approx. 122|
|Micrognathozoa||Tiny jaw animals||Limnognathia||Accordion-like extensible thorax||1|
|Mollusca||Soft:320||Mollusks / molluscs||Muscular foot and mantle round shell||85,000+ extant; 80,000+ extinct|
|Nematoda||Thread like||Round worms, thread worms:274||Round cross section, keratin cuticle||25,000|
|Nematomorpha||Thread form:276||Horsehair worms, Gordian worms:276||approx. 320|
|Nemertea||A sea nymph:270||Ribbon worms, Rhynchocoela:270||approx. 1,200|
|Onychophora||Claw bearer||Velvet worms:328||Legs tipped by chitinous claws||approx. 200 extant|
|Orthonectida||Straight swimming:268||Orthonectids:268||Single layer of ciliated cells surrounding a mass of sex cells||approx. 26|
|Phoronida||Zeus's mistress||Horseshoe worms||U-shaped gut||11|
|Placozoa||Plate animals||Trichoplaxes:242||Differentiated top and bottom surfaces, two ciliated cell layers, amoeboid fiber cells in between||1|
|Platyhelminthes||Flat worm:262||Flatworms:262||approx. 29,500|
|Porifera||Pore bearer||Sponges:246||Perforated interior wall||10,800 extant|
|Priapulida||Little Priapus||Penis worms||approx. 20|
|Rhombozoa||Lozenge animal||Rhombozoans:264||Single anteroposterior axial cell surrounded by ciliated cells||100+|
|Rotifera||Wheel bearer||Rotifers:282||Anterior crown of cilia||approx. 2,000|
|Tardigrada||Slow step||Water bears, moss piglets:324||Four-segmented body and head||1,000+|
|Xenacoelomorpha||Strange form without gut||—||Ciliated deuterostome||400+|
The kingdom Plantae is defined in various ways by different biologists (see Current definitions of Plantae). All definitions include the living embryophytes (land plants), to which may be added the two green algae divisions, Chlorophyta and Charophyta, to form the clade Viridiplantae. The table below follows the influential (though contentious) Cavalier-Smith system in equating "Plantae" with Archaeplastida, a group containing Viridiplantae and the algal Rhodophyta and Glaucophyta divisions.
The definition and classification of plants at the division level also varies from source to source, and has changed progressively in recent years. Thus some sources place horsetails in division Arthrophyta and ferns in division Pteridophyta, while others place them both in Pteridophyta, as shown below. The division Pinophyta may be used for all gymnosperms (i.e. including cycads, ginkgos and gnetophytes), or for conifers alone as below.
Since the first publication of the APG system in 1998, which proposed a classification of angiosperms up to the level of orders, many sources have preferred to treat ranks higher than orders as informal clades. Where formal ranks have been provided, the traditional divisions listed below have been reduced to a very much lower level, e.g. subclasses.
|Other algae (Biliphyta)|
|Division||Meaning||Common name||Distinguishing characteristics||Species described|
|Anthocerotophyta||Anthoceros-like plant||Hornworts||Horn-shaped sporophytes, no vascular system||100-300+|
|Bryophyta||Bryum-like plant, moss plant||Mosses||Persistent unbranched sporophytes, no vascular system||approx. 12,000|
|Charophyta||Chara-like plant||Charophytes||approx. 1,000|
|Chlorophyta||Yellow-green plant:200||Chlorophytes||approx. 7,000|
|Cycadophyta||Cycas-like plant, palm-like plant||Cycads||Seeds, crown of compound leaves||approx. 100-200|
|Ginkgophyta||Ginkgo-like plant||Ginkgo, maidenhair tree||Seeds not protected by fruit (single living species)||only 1 extant; 50+ extinct|
|Gnetophyta||Gnetum-like plant||Gnetophytes||Seeds and woody vascular system with vessels||approx. 70|
|Clubmosses & spikemosses||Microphyll leaves, vascular system||1,290 extant|
|Magnoliophyta||Magnolia-like plant||Flowering plants, angiosperms||Flowers and fruit, vascular system with vessels||300,000|
|Liverworts||Ephemeral unbranched sporophytes, no vascular system||approx. 9,000|
|Conifers||Cones containing seeds and wood composed of tracheids||629 extant|
|Pteridophyta||Pteris-like plant, fern plant||Ferns & horsetails||Prothallus gametophytes, vascular system||approx. 9,000 (not including lycophytes)|
|Rhodophyta||Rose plant||Red algae||approx. 7,000|
|Division||Meaning||Common name||Distinguishing characteristics|
|Ascomycota||Bladder fungus:396||Ascomycetes,:396 sac fungi|
|Basidiomycota||Small base fungus:402||Basidiomycetes:402|
|Blastocladiomycota||Offshoot branch fungus||Blastoclads|
|Chytridiomycota||Little cooking pot fungus||Chytrids|
|Glomeromycota||Ball of yarn fungus:394||Glomeromycetes, AM fungi:394|
|Neocallimastigomycota||New beautiful whip fungus||Neocallimastigomycetes|
Phylum Microsporidia is generally included in kingdom Fungi, though its exact relations remain uncertain, and it is considered a protozoan by the International Society of Protistologists (see Protista, below). Molecular analysis of Zygomycota has found it to be polyphyletic (its members do not share an immediate ancestor), which is considered undesirable by many biologists. Accordingly, there is a proposal to abolish the Zygomycota phylum. Its members would be divided between phylum Glomeromycota and four new subphyla incertae sedis (of uncertain placement): Entomophthoromycotina, Kickxellomycotina, Mucoromycotina, and Zoopagomycotina.
Kingdom Protista (or Protoctista) is included in the traditional five- or six-kingdom model, where it can be defined as containing all eukaryotes that are not plants, animals, or fungi.:120 Protista is a polyphyletic taxon (it includes groups not directly related to one another), which is less acceptable to present-day biologists than in the past. Proposals have been made to divide it among several new kingdoms, such as Protozoa and Chromista in the Cavalier-Smith system.
Protist taxonomy has long been unstable, with different approaches and definitions resulting in many competing classification schemes. The phyla listed here are used for Chromista and Protozoa by the Catalogue of Life, adapted from the system used by the International Society of Protistologists.
|Phylum/Division||Meaning||Common name||Distinguishing characteristics||Example|
|Euglenozoa||True eye animal||Euglena|
|Foraminifera||Hole bearers||Forams||Complex shells with one or more chambers||Forams|
Currently there are 29 phyla accepted by List of Prokaryotic names with Standing in Nomenclature (LPSN)
- Acidobacteria, phenotipically diverse and mostly uncultured
- Actinobacteria, High-G+C Gram positive species
- Aquificae, only 14 thermophilic genera, deep branching
- Caldiserica, formerly candidate division OP5, Caldisericum exile is the sole representative
- Chlamydiae, only 6 genera
- Chlorobi, only 7 genera, green sulphur bacteria
- Chloroflexi, green non-sulphur bacteria
- Chrysiogenetes, only 3 genera (Chrysiogenes arsenatis, Desulfurispira natronophila, Desulfurispirillum alkaliphilum)
- Cyanobacteria, also known as the blue-green algae
- Deinococcus-Thermus, Deinococcus radiodurans and Thermus aquaticus are "commonly known" species of this phyla
- Elusimicrobia, formerly candidate division Thermite Group 1
- Firmicutes, Low-G+C Gram positive species, such as the spore-formers Bacilli (aerobic) and Clostridia (anaerobic)
- Lentisphaerae, formerly clade VadinBE97
- Proteobacteria, the most known phyla, containing species such as Escherichia coli or Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Spirochaetes, species include Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease
- Tenericutes, alternatively class Mollicutes in phylum Firmicutes (notable genus: Mycoplasma)
- Thermotogae, deep branching
Currently there are 5 phyla accepted by List of Prokaryotic names with Standing in Nomenclature (LPSN).
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