Zoology may be defined in a very simple manner: It is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom. This includes the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct.
A brief history…
The roots of zoology can be traced back to the works of Aristotle and Galen in the ancient Greco-Roman world; although, zoology didn’t become its own distinct field of study until many years later. During the Renaissance and early modern period, the field of zoology was revolutionized by various scientists who did things such as started experimentation and careful observation in physiology, classified the diversity of life and the fossil record, and studied the development and behavior of organisms.
Zoology started to separate as its own distinct area of study during the 18th and 19th centuries after Alexander von Humboldt investigated the interaction between organisms and their environments. His studies included the ways this relationship depends on geography, which laid the foundations for biogeography, ecology, and ethology.
The person that really put zoology on the map, though, was Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution and natural selection revolutionized scientific thought and forced the world of science to really pay attention to the field of zoology. Since then, the research and findings in zoology have not only played an important part in science as a whole, but it’s also played an important part in our daily lives.
Areas of Zoology
Since zoology essentially covers everything in biology as it pertains to animals, there are many different research fields and branches under the general umbrella of zoology. The main areas of research in zoology are listed below along with a brief description of each.
- Ethology: This is the study of animal behavior with an emphasis on the behavioral patterns that occur in natural environments. In recent years, scientists who specialize in ethology (ethologists) have been particularly concerned with the evolution of behavior and the understanding of behavior in terms of the theory of natural selection.
- Evolutionary: This area of study is focused on the origin of species as well as their changes over time. Scientists involved in evolutionary studies will often times use the work of scientists who specialize in the study of a particular species or organism. They use the research on those organisms as systems to answer general questions about evolution.
- Physiological: This area focuses on the mechanical, physical, and biochemical processes of living organisms in order to help understand how organisms function as a whole. Scientists study both plant and animal physiology, and they are often times interrelated on a cellular level.
- Structural: This area focuses on the structural and physiological properties of cells, and how they are structured to form an organism. This includes cells’ behaviors, interactions, and environments.
- Systematic: This area deals with the scientific classification of the animal kingdom. This system is not only used to classify animals, but it’s also used to classify plants. Under this system, organisms are grouped and classified by biological type, such as genus or species. It used to be that organisms were grouped into species according to shared physical characteristics. Since then, it has been revised, and organisms are now grouped according to common descent.
Branches of zoology may be classified according to the species that are being studied, the location of the animals that are being studied, or what aspect of animal life is being studied (such as reproduction and evolution). A few examples are listed below.
- Herpetology: the study reptiles and amphibians
- Ichthyology: the study fish
- Mammalogy: the study mammals
- Ornithologists: the study birds
- Marine biology: the study organisms that live in saltwater
- Limnology: the study organisms that live in freshwater