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PLANTS are defined as multicellular organisms that carry out photosynthesis. Any member of the plant kingdom, comprising about 260,000 known species of mosses, liverworts, ferns, herbaceous and woody plants, bushes, vines, trees, and various other forms that mantle the Earth and are also found in its waters. Plants range in size and complexity from small, nonvascular mosses, which depend on direct contact with surface water, to giant sequoia trees, which can draw water and minerals through their vascular systems to elevations of more than 100 m.
Plants have laid down the fossil fuels that provide power for industrial society, and throughout their long history plants have supplied sufficient oxygen to the atmosphere to support the evolution of higher animals. Organisms that had previously been called plants, however, such as bacteria, algae, and fungi, continue to be the province of botany, because of their historical connection with the discipline and their many similarities to true plants, and because of the practicality of not fragmenting the study of organisms into too many separate fields.

The Greeks believed that plants derived their nourishment from the soil only. Not until the 17th century did the Belgian scientist Jan Baptista van Helmont show that, although only water was added to a potted willow, it gained nearly 75 kg, whereas the soil it stood in lost only about 60g of weight over a period of five years. This demonstrated that the soil contributes very little to the increase in the weight of plants. In the 18th century the English chemist Joseph Priestley demonstrated that growing plants restore air from which the oxygen has been removed (by the burning of candles or the breathing of animals), and the Dutch physiologist Jan Ingenhousz (1730-99) extended this observation by showing that light is required for plants to restore air. These and other discoveries formed the basis for modern plant physiology, that branch of botany dealing with basic plant functions. Gross observations and experiments on photosynthesis and the movement of water in plants can be made without knowledge of their structure, but explanations of these phenomena require knowledge of morphologythe study and interpretation of plant form, development, and life historiesand of anatomythe study of plant tissues and their origin and relations to one another. The cellular nature of plants was first pointed out by the English scientist Robert Hooke in the 17th century, when he observed that cork bark consists of cells. In 1838 the German botanist Matthias Schleiden proposed that all plant tissues consist of cells; this implied a basic sameness of living things and laid the foundation for the development of cytology, the study of the structure and function of cells as individual units rather than as aggregate tissue. The German pathologist Rudolf Virchow showed in 1858 that cells are derived from preexisting cells, and thus that a continuity exists between past and present living things. Such observations were important not only in the development of plant physiology and anatomy but also in the understanding of genetics, the science of heredity, and of evolution.

In the 19th century the Austrian botanist Gregor Mendel worked out the basic principles of genetics, using varieties of garden peas and observing variations in their floral and vegetative features. His hybridization experiments required knowledge of the function of the various parts of the flower in reproduction, and this knowledge was derived from the experiments of the Dutch botanist Rudolph Jacob Camerarius, who established the nature of sexual reproduction in plants. Mendels experiments went unnoticed until the early 1900s; in the meantime, Charles Darwin founded the theory of evolution (which in modern form depends on the principles of genetics) without knowledge of Mendels work. Darwin observed variation and changes in organisms through time, and Mendel worked out the laws governing the assortment and recombination of different traits. The source of differences and changes was not known, however, until the Dutch botanist Hugo Marie de Vries observed the spontaneous appearance of new traits in otherwise predictable crosses of evening primroses and suggested that these were the result of changes, or mutations, in the genes.

Plants are multicellular eukaryotesthat is, their cells contain membrane-bound structures called organelles. Plants differ from other eukaryotes because their cells are enclosed by more or less rigid cell walls composed primarily of cellulose. The most important characteristic of plants is their ability to photosynthesize. During photosynthesis, plants make their own food by converting light energy into chemical energya process carried out in the green cellular organelles called chloroplasts. A few plants have lost their chlorophyll and have become saprophytes or parasitesthat is, they absorb their food from dead organic matter or living organic matter, respectivelybut details of their structure show that they are evolved plant forms. Fungi, also eukaryotic and long considered members of the plant kingdom, have now been placed in a separate kingdom because they lack chlorophyll and plastids and because their rigid cell walls contain chitin rather than cellulose. Unlike the majority of plants, fungi do not manufacture their own food; instead they are saprophytic, absorbing their food from either dead or living organic matter. The various groups of algae were also formerly placed in the plant kingdom because many are eukaryotic and because most have rigid cell walls and carry out photosynthesis. Nonetheless, because of the variety of pigment types, cell wall types, and physical attributes found in the algae, they are now recognized as part of two separate kingdoms, containing a diversity of plantlike and other organisms that are not necessarily closely related. One of the phyla of algae, the green algae, is believed to have given rise to the plant kingdom, because its chlorophylls, cell walls, and other details of cellular structure are similar to those of plants.

The many species of organisms in the plant kingdom are divided into several phyla, or divisions, totaling about 260,000 species. The bryophytes are a diverse assemblage of three phyla of nonvascular plants, with about 16,000 species, that includes the mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. Bryophytes lack a welldeveloped vascular system for the internal conduction of water and nutrients and have been called nonvascular plants. It takes two generations to complete the plant life cycle (Alternation of Generations). The familiar leafy plant of bryophytes is the sexual, or gamete-producing, generation of the life cycle of these organisms. Because of the lack of a vascular system and because the gametes require a film of water for dispersal, bryophytes are generally small plants that tend to occur in moist conditions, although some attain large size under favorable circumstances and others (usually very small) are adapted to desert life.

The other phyla are collectively termed vascular plants, or tracheophytes. Vascular tissue is internal conducting tissue for the movement of water, minerals, and food. There are two types of vascular tissue: xylem, which conducts water and minerals from the ground to stems and leaves, and phloem, which conducts food produced in the leaves to the stems, roots, and storage and reproductive organs. Besides the presence of vascular tissue, tracheophytes contrast with bryophytes in that tracheophyte leafy plants are the asexual, or spore-producing, generation of their life cycle. In the evolution of tracheophytes, the spore-producing generation became much larger and more complex, whereas the gamete-producing generation became reduced and merely contained in the sporophyte tissue. This ability to evolve into larger and more diverse sporophytes, together with the ability of the vascular system to elevate water, freed tracheophytes from direct dependence on surface water. They were thus able to dominate all the terrestrial habitats of the Earth, except the higher Arctic zones, and to provide food and shelter for its diverse animal inhabitants.

Cooperation and Competition

Many plant species exist as separate male and female plants, and pollen from male flowers must reach the female flowers in order for pollination and seed development to take place. The agent of pollination is sometimes the wind (a part of the physical environment), but in many cases it is an insect, bat, or bird (members of the biological environment). Plants may also rely on agents for dispersing their seed. Thus, after pollination, cherry trees develop cherries that attract birds, which ingest the fruit and excrete the cherry stones in more distant terrains. Plants have evolved many other mutually beneficial relationships, such as the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that occur in the nodules on the roots of legumes (see Nitrogen Fixation). Many prairie grasses and other plants that flourish on open land depend on various herbivores to keep forests from closing in and shading them. In the competition among plants for light, many species have evolved such mechanisms as leaf shape, crown shape, and increased height in order to intercept the sun's rays. In addition, many plants produce chemical substances that inhibit the germination or establishment of seeds of other species near them, thus excluding competing species from mineral resources as well as light. Walnut species, for example, use such an allelopathy, or chemical inhibition.

The Food Web

Because plants are autotrophsorganisms that are able to manufacture their own foodthey lie at the very foundation of the food web. Heterotrophsorganisms that cannot manufacture their own foodusually lead less sedentary lives than plants, but they ultimately depend on autotrophs as sources of food. Plants are first fed upon by primary consumers, or herbivores, which in turn are fed upon by secondary consumers, or carnivores. Decomposers act upon all levels of the food web. A large portion of energy is lost at each step in the food web; only about 10 percent of the energy in one level is stored by the next. Thus, most food webs contain only a few steps.

Cellulose from pine fibers, seen here through an electron microscope, is used in the manufacture of textiles. Treating cellulose with chemicals produces a number of useful substances, including starch for coating parchment paper, and the threads and film that form rayon and cellophane. Found in the cell walls of all plants, cellulose is the most abundant organic compound in the world.



An examination of leaves, stems, and other types of plant tissue reveals the presence of tiny green, spherical structures called chloroplasts, visible here in the cells of an onion root. Chloroplasts are essential to the process of photosynthesis, in which captured sunlight is combined with water and carbon dioxide in the presence of the chlorophyll molecule to produce oxygen and sugars that can be used by animals. Without the process of photosynthesis, the atmosphere would not contain enough oxygen to support animal life.

Animal, are multicellular organism that obtains energy by eating food. With over 2 million known species, and much more awaiting identification, animals are the most diverse forms of life on earth. They range in size from 30-m (100-ft) long whales to microscopic organisms only 0.05 mm (0.002 in) long. They live in a vast range of habitats, from deserts and Arctic tundra to the deep-sea floor. Animals are the only living things that have evolved nervous systems and sense organs that monitor their surroundings. They are also the only forms of life that show flexible patterns of behavior that can be shaped by past experience. The study of animals is known as zoology. Animals are multicellular organisms, a characteristic they share with plants and many fungi. But they differ from plants and fungi in several important ways. Foremost among these is the way they obtain energy. Plants obtain energy directly from sunlight through the process of photosynthesis, and they use this energy to build up organic matter from simple raw materials. Animals, on the other hand, eat other living things or their dead remains. They then digest this food to release the energy that it contains. Fungi also take in food, but instead of digesting it internally as animals do, they digest it before they absorb it. Most animals start life as a single fertilized cell, which divides many times to produce the thousands or millions of cells needed to form a functioning body. During this process, groups of cells develop different characteristics and arrange themselves in tissues that carry out specialized functions. Epithelial tissue covers the bodys inner and outer surfaces, while connective tissue binds it together and provides support. Nervous tissue conducts the signals that coordinate the body (see Nervous System), and muscle tissuewhich makes up over two-thirds of the body mass of some animalscontracts to make the body move. This mobility, coupled with rapid responses to opportunities and hazards, is one feature that distinguishes animals from other forms of life. Animal life spans vary from less than 3 weeks in some insects to over a century in giant tortoises. Some animals, such as sponges, mollusks, fish, and snakes, show indeterminate growth, which means that they continue to grow throughout life. Most, however, reach a pre-defined size at maturity, at which point their physical growth stops.

Most biologists agree that animals evolved from simpler single-celled organisms. Exactly how this happened is unclear, because few fossils have been left to record the sequence of events. Faced with this lack of fossil evidence, researchers have attempted to piece together animal origins by examining the single-celled organisms alive today. Modern single-celled organisms are classified into two kingdoms: the prokaryotes and protists. Prokaryotes, which include bacteria, are very simple organisms, and lack many of the features seen in animal cells. Protists, on the other hand, are more complex, and their cells contain all the specialized structures, or organelles, found in the cells of animals. One protist group, the choanoflagellates or collar flagellates, contains organisms that bear a striking resemblance to cells that are found in sponges. Most choanoflagellates live on their own, but significantly, some form permanent groups or colonies.

This tendency to form colonies is widely believed to have been an important stepping stone on the path to animal life. The next step in evolution would have involved a transition from colonies of independent cells to colonies containing specialized cells that were dependent on each other for survival. Once this development had occurred, such colonies would have effectively become single organisms. Increasing specialization among groups of cells could then have created tissues, triggering the long and complex evolution of animal bodies. This conjectural sequence of events probably occurred along several parallel paths. One path led to the sponges, which retain a collection of primitive features that sets them apart from all animals. Another path led to two major subdivisions of the animal kingdom: the protostomes, which include arthropods, annelid worms, mollusks, and cnidarians; and the deuterostomes, which include echinoderms and chordates. Protostomes and deuterostomes differ fundamentally in the way they develop as embryos, strongly suggesting that they split from each other a long time ago. Animal life first appeared perhaps a billion years ago, but for a long time after this, the fossil record remains almost blank. Fossils exist that seem to show burrows and other indirect evidence for animal life, but the first direct evidence of animals themselves appears about 650 million years ago, toward the end of the Precambrian period. At this time, the animal kingdom stood on the threshold of a great explosion in diversity. By the end of the Cambrian Period, 150 million years later, all of the main types of animal life existing today had become established.

Like all living things, animals show similarities and differences that enable them to be classified into groups. Birds, for example, are the only animals that have feathers, while mammals are the only ones that have fur. The scientific classification of animals began in the late 18th century. At this time, animals were classified almost entirely by external features, mainly because these are easy to observe. But external features can sometimes be misleading. For example, in the past, comparison of physical features led to whales being classified as fish and some snakes being classified as worms.

Vertebrates and Invertebrates

One phylum of animals, the chordates, has been more intensively studied than has any other, because it comprises nearly all the worlds largest and most familiar animals as well as humans. This phylum includes mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish together with a collection of lesser-known organisms, such as sea squirts and their relatives. The feature uniting these animals is that at some stage in their lives, all have a flexible supporting rod, called a notochord, running the length of their bodies. In the great majority of chordates, the notochord is replaced by a series of interlocking bones called vertebrae during early development. These bones form the backbone, and they give these animals their namethe vertebrates. Vertebrates total about 40,000 species. Thanks to their highly developed nervous systems and internal skeletons, they have become very successful on land, sea, and air. Yet vertebrates account for only about 2 percent of animal species. The remaining 98 percent, collectively called invertebrates, are far more numerous and diverse and include an immense variety of animals from sponges, worms, and jellyfish to mollusks and insects. The only feature these diverse creatures share in common is the lack of a backbone. Some invertebrate phyla contain relatively few species. An extreme example is the phylum Placozoa, which contains just one species. Measuring less than 0.5 mm (0.02 in) across, this unique animal was first discovered in 1883 in a saltwater aquarium in Austria. Its flat body consists of just two layers of cells, making

it the simplest known member of the animal kingdom, although not the smallest. Another minor phylum, the loriciferans, was classified in 1983 with the chance discovery of a tiny organism dredged up in marine gravel. Several other species of loriciferans have since been identified, but little is known about how they live. At the other end of the spectrum, some invertebrate phyla contain immense numbers of species. These major phyla include the annelids (segmented worms), with 12,000 known species; the nematodes (roundworms), also with 12,000 known species; and the mollusks, including bivalves, snails, and octopuses, with at least 100,000 species. The arthropods, with about 1 million known species, include the insects, spiders, and crustaceans. These figures include only species that have been described and named, which are only a portion of those that actually exist. Some biologists estimate that the total number of nematode species may be as high as a quarter of a million, while the total number of arthropods could exceed 10 million. Compared to vertebrates, most invertebrates are animals of modest dimensions. Giant squids, which are the largest invertebrates, can exceed 18 m (60 ft) in length, but the great majority of invertebrate animals are less than 2.5 cm (1 in) long. Their small size enables them to exploit food sources and infiltrate habitats that larger animals cannot use, but it also leaves them exposed to changing environmental conditions. This is not often a problem in the sea, but it can create difficulties on land. Land-dwelling invertebrates have to cope with the constant threat of drying out, and most of them quickly become inactive in low temperatures.

Few parts of Earths surface are entirely devoid of animal life. Animals cannot survive in places where water is unavailable or permanently frozen, or where temperatures regularly exceed 55 C (130 F). However, in all habitats that lie between these extremes, animal life abounds.

Aquatic Habitats
Animal life first arose in water. Millions of years later, marine and freshwater habitats continue to

support a large proportion of the animal life on earth. Aquatic habitatsparticularly in the seas and oceans rarely experience abrupt changes in conditions, which is a major advantage for living things. In the seas and oceans, the greatest diversity of animal life is found in habitats close to shores. The richest of all these habitats are coral reefs, underwater ridges that form in clear water where the minimum temperature is 20 C (68 F) or above. Coral reefs are composed of an accumulation of the remains of coral invertebrates with stony skeletonscalcareous red algae, and mollusks. One of the reasons for the great diversity of animal life in reefs is that living coral creates a complex three-dimensional landscape, with many different microhabitats. The smallest crevices provide hiding places for scavengers such as crabs and shrimps, while larger ones conceal predators such as octopuses and moray eels. Over half the worlds fish species live in coral reefs, many hiding away by day and emerging after dark to feed. On reefs and rocky shores, many animals are sessile, meaning that they spend their entire adult lives fixed in one place. These species, which include sponges, barnacles, and mollusks, as well as reef-building corals themselves, typically spend the early part of their lives as drifting larvae, before settling on a solid surface and changing shape.

Sessile animals are common in aquatic habitats because it is relatively easy for them to collect food, which typically is pushed in the animals direction by water currents. By contrast, very few sessile animals have evolved on land. In open water, depth has a marked influence on animal lifestyles. The surface layers of the open sea teem with small and submicroscopic animals, which feed either on algae and other plantlike organisms or on each other. These animals form part of the plankton, a complex community of living things that drifts passively with the currents. Many planktonic animals can adjust the depth at which they float, but larger animals such as fish, squid, and marine mammals, are strong enough to commute between the surface and the depths far below. Even in the clearest water, light quickly fades with increasing depth. Deeper than about 150 m (500 ft), not enough light penetrates for photosynthesis to occur, so algae are unable to survive. With increasing depth, water pressure rises and temperature falls, ultimately coming close to the freezing point on the ocean floor. Despite these extreme conditions, animal life is found in the oceans greatest depths, fueled by the constant rain of organic debris that drifts down from far above. In a habitat where prey is widely scattered, many deepsea fish can swallow animals larger than themselves, an adaptation that allows them to go weeks or months between meals.

Land Habitats
On land, animal habitats are strongly influenced by climate, the combination of precipitation and

temperature conditions experienced in a region. At or near the equator, year-round moisture and warmth generates a constant supply of food. Further north or south, seasonal changes become much more pronounced, shaping the type of animals that live in different habitats and their strategies for survival. Tropical and subtropical forests are home to by far the largest number of animal species on land. These animals include the majority of the worlds insects, most of its primates, and a large proportion of its birds. Tropical forests have existed longer than any other forests on earth and their plants and animals have evolved an elaborate web of interrelationships. Unlike tropical forests, temperate forests provide animals with an abundance of food during spring and summer, but a dearth during the winter. In this habitat, animals have evolved several different strategies for avoiding starvation during the winter months. Food hoarders, such as squirrels and jay birds, bury surplus food during the fall, and dig it up again when other food supplies run out. Other forest animals, such as the common dormouse, avoid food shortages by hibernation, a period of inactivity when body temperature is lowered. A third group of animalscomposed chiefly of birds, but also including some bats and insectsmigrates to warmer regions before the winter begins and returns again in spring. In boreal forests, which are found in the far north, the seasonal swings are more extreme. Here only a few species stay and remain active during the winter months. For land animals, the most testing habitats are ones that experience intense drought or extreme cold. Desert animals cope with heat and water shortage by behavioral adaptations, such as remaining below ground by day, and also by physiological adaptations. North American kangaroo rats, for example, can live entirely on dry seeds without ever drinking liquid water. They do this by losing very little moisture from their bodies and using all the metabolic water that is formed when food is broken down to release energy.

Animals all feed on organic matter, but their diets and way of obtaining food vary enormously. Some animals are omnivores, meaning that they are capable of surviving on a very wide range of foods.

Herbivores and Carnivores

In general, animals eat plants, other animals, or the remains of living things. Plant-eaters, or

herbivores, often do not have to search far to find things to eat, and in some casesfor example wood-boring insectsthey are entirely surrounded by their food. The disadvantage of a plant-based diet is that it can be difficult to digest and is often low in nutrients. To overcome the first of these problems, most herbivores have tough mouthparts for chewing and grinding their food. Many plant-eating animals, from termites to cattle, have complex digestive systems containing microorganisms that break down cellulose and other indigestible plant substances, turning them into nutrients that the animals can absorb. The second problemlack of nutrientsis harder to sidestep, particularly in a diet made up largely of leaves. As a result, leaf-eaters often have to feed for many hours each day to obtain the nutrients that they need. Carnivores live on flesh from other animals that is often nutrient-rich and easy to digest but difficult to obtain. Finding and capturing this kind of food calls for keen senses. But even though a hunter has acute vision or a highly developed sense of smell, a large proportion of a hunters victims manage to escape. If this happens too often, a predator quickly starves. Some mammalian predators, such as the lion and wolf, increase their chances of success by hunting in groups. While this strategy enables them to tackle larger prey, a successful kill has to be shared among members of the group. But in the animal world as a whole, many other predators adopt a less energy-intensive approach to catching their food. In predatory animals, teeth or other mouthparts often play a part in catching and subduing food as well as in preparing it for digestion. These mouthparts include canine teeth in carnivorous mammals, venomous fangs in snakes, and poisonous harpoons in some marine mollusks. These harpoons can impale and kill small fish. Each harpoon is used just once, and afterwards it is expelled and another is formed in its place.

Other Feeding Strategies

On land, these animals include insect-eating mammals, such as anteaters and pangolins. Using their

long and sticky tongues, they lick up ants and termites and can consume over 20,000 insects a day. In water, this kind of feeding strategy is mirrored by animals called filter feeders, which sieve small animals or food particles from their surroundings. Many of these filter feeders are sessile animals that sieve food from the water immediately around them. Others, such as some whales, scoop up their food while on the move and filter it out in their mouths, using specialized gills or plates of a fibrous material called baleen. This feeding technique is extremely efficient, allowing whales to grow to an immense size.

In another feeding technique, predators seek out sources of food that are much larger than themselves but only eat part of their preyusually its blood. This way of life is has been pursued with great success by several groups of flying insects, such as mosquitoes and horseflies. But in the animal world as a whole, fluid diets are much more common in animals that feed on plants. Aphids, cicadas, and other true bugs use piercing mouthparts to suck sap from plant stems. Many different animals, including moths, butterflies, hummingbirds, and bats, use probing beaks and tongues to reach nectar in flowers. To avoid the need to track down food, some animals use a highly specialized feeding strategy, called parasitism. A parasite lives on or inside other animals and simply siphons off some of its hosts food or, more commonly, feeds on the host itself. External parasites, such as fleas, have well-developed senses and adaptations that enable them to cling to their hosts. Internal parasites, such as tapeworms and liver flukes, are highly modified for a life inside their hosts. The sense organs of internal parasites are rudimentary or absent because they do not need to find food or avoid enemies. Instead, they devote their time entirely to the twin tasks of feeding and reproduction.

All animals can move parts of their bodies. The majority are also capable of locomotionmovement of the whole body from place to place. Many simple animals, such as rotifers and flatworms, move with the help of microscopic hairlike structures called cilia. These beat in a coordinated way, propelling the animal through water or making it glide over solid surfaces at the rate of a few inches an hour. Another form of creeping movement, seen in earthworms, involves changes in body shape. The worms segments extend and contract in a set sequence, allowing it to force its way through the surrounding soil. Squid and octopuses, which can move by a form of jet propulsionthe fastest animals by far are ones that have skeletons and jointed limbs.

Jointed Limbs
Jointed limbs are found in only two groups of animals: the arthropods and vertebrates. An arthropods limbs are made of a number of hard tubular segments, which form part of its external skeleton, or exoskeleton. The muscles that operate them are hidden away inside this strong outer framework. In vertebrates, the plan is reversed. The bony skeleton forms an internal framework, with muscles attached around it. During the course of evolution, both these kinds of limbs have become modified in many different ways. Aquatic animals often have paddlelike limbs that push against the water, enabling them to speed away from predators or after food, or to maneuver their way around confined spaces. On land, the fastest animals, such as the horse and cheetah, have long legs and a flexible backbone, which helps to increase the length of their stride. Land animals that move by jumping often have highly developed hind legs, with extra-large muscles. In fleas, the muscles squeeze an elastic material called resilin, which flicks the legs back when released. This extremely rapid flick is faster than a jump triggered by muscles alone, and it throws a flea up to 30 cm (12 in) into the air. Many animals can glide, but only insects, birds, and bats are capable of powered flight. The fastest flying insects are dragonflies, which can reach speeds of about 29 km/h (about 18 mph) in short bursts. However, in terms of speed and endurance, birds are by far the most successful animal aviators. Swans and geese can cruise at 64 km/h (40 mph) for many hours at a time, while peregrine falcons can briefly reach 145 km/h (90 mph) when they swoop down on their prey.

Human, common name given to any individual of the species Homo sapiens and, by extension, to the entire species. The term is also applied to certain species that were the evolutionary forerunners of Homo sapiens (see Human Evolution). Scientists consider all living people members of a single species.

Homo sapiens is identified, for purposes of classification, as an animal (kingdom Animalia) with a backbone (phylum Chordata) and segmented spinal cord (subphylum Vertebrata) that suckles its young (class Mammalia); that gestates its young with the aid of a placenta (subclass Eutheria); that is equipped with fivedigited extremities, a collarbone, and a single pair of mammary glands on the chest (order Primates); and that has eyes at the front of the head, stereoscopic vision, and a proportionately large brain (suborder Anthropoidea). The species belongs to the family Hominidae, the general characteristics of which are discussed below.


The details of skeletal structure distinguishing Homo sapiens from the nearest primate relativesthe gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutanstem largely from a very early adaptation to a completely erect posture and a two-footed striding walk (bipedalism). The uniquely S-shaped spinal column places the center of gravity of the human body directly over the area of support provided by the feet, thus giving stability and balance in the upright position. Other mechanical modifications for bipedalism include a broad pelvis, a locking knee joint,

an elongated heel bone, and a lengthened and aligned big toe. Although varying degrees of bipedalism are seen in other anthropoids, all have straight or bowed spines, bent knees, and grasping (prehensile) feet, and all use the hands to bear part of the body weight when moving about. Complete bipedalism in the human freed the hand to become a supremely sensitive instrument for precise manipulation and grasping. The most important structural detail in this refinement is the elongated human thumb, which can rotate freely and is fully opposable to the other fingers. The physiological requirements for speech were secondarily established by erect posture, which positions the vocal cords for controlled breathing, and by the skilled use of the hands. The latter development occurs in association with the enlargement and specialization of a brain area (Broca's convolution) that is a prerequisite for refined control of the lips and tongue. The large (averaging 1400 cc/85.4 cu in) brain of Homo sapiens is approximately double that of early human toolmakers. This great increase in size in only 2 million years was achieved by a process called neoteny, which is the prolongation of retention of immature characteristics. The juvenile stage of brain and skull development is prolonged so that they grow for a longer period of time in relation to the time required to reach sexual maturity. Unlike the early human adult skull, with its sloping forehead and prominent jaw, the modern human skullwith biologically insignificant variationsretains into maturity a proportionately large size, in relation to the rest of the body, a high-rounded dome, straight-planed face, and reduced jaw size, all closely resembling the characteristics of the skull in the juvenile chimpanzee. Its enlarged dimensions required adaptations for passage through the birth canal; consequently, the human female pelvis widens at maturity (with some sacrifice in swiftness of locomotion), and the human infant is born prematurely. Chimpanzees are born with 65 percent of their adult brain capacity; Australopithecine, an erect, tool-using near-human of 3 million years ago, was born with about 50 percent; modern human newborns have only 25 percent of adult brain capacity, resulting in an extended period of helplessness..

The physiological adaptations that made humans more flexible than other primates allowed for the development of a wide range of abilities and an unparalleled versatility in behavior. The brain's great size, complexity, and slow maturation, with neural connections being added through at least the first 12 years of life, meant that learned behavior could largely modify stereotyped, instinctive responses. New environmental demands could be met by rapid adjustments rather than by slow genetic selection; thus, survival in a wide range of habitats and under extreme conditions eventually became possible without further species differentiation.

The human species has a unique capability for culture in the sense of conscious thinking and planning, transmission of skills and systems of social relationships, and creative modification of the environment. The integrated patterns of behavior required for planning and fashioning tools were accomplished at least 2.5 million years ago, and some form of advanced code for vocal communication may also have existed at this time. By 350,000 years ago planned hunting, firemaking, and the wearing of clothing were well established, as was possibly ritualized disposal of the dead. Evidence of religion, recorded events, and art date from 30,000 to 40,000 years ago and imply advanced language and ethics for the complex ordering of social groups required for such activities.