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Kingdom (biology) facts for kids

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Biological classification L Pengo vflipLifeDomainKingdomPhylumClassOrderFamilyGenusSpecies
The hierarchy of biological classification's eight major taxonomic ranks. Template:Biological classification/core Intermediate minor rankings are not shown.

In biology, a kingdom is the second highest taxonomic rank, just below domain. Kingdoms are divided into smaller groups called phyla.

Traditionally, some textbooks from the United States and Canada used a system of six kingdoms (Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea/Archaebacteria, and Bacteria or Eubacteria); while textbooks in other parts of the world, such as the Great Britain, Bangladesh, India, Greece, Brazil use five kingdoms only (Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista and Monera).

Some recent classifications based on modern cladistics have explicitly abandoned the term kingdom, noting that some traditional kingdoms are not monophyletic, meaning that they do not consist of all the descendants of a common ancestor. The terms flora (for plants), fauna (for animals), and, in the 21st century, funga (for fungi) are also used for life present in a particular region or time.

Definition and associated terms

When Carl Linnaeus introduced the rank-based system of nomenclature into biology in 1735, the highest rank was given the name "kingdom" and was followed by four other main or principal ranks: class, order, genus and species. Later two further main ranks were introduced, making the sequence kingdom, phylum or division, class, order, family, genus and species. In 1990, the rank of domain was introduced above kingdom.

Prefixes can be added so subkingdom (subregnum) and infrakingdom (also known as infraregnum) are the two ranks immediately below kingdom. Superkingdom may be considered as an equivalent of domain or empire or as an independent rank between kingdom and domain or subdomain. In some classification systems the additional rank branch (Latin: ramus) can be inserted between subkingdom and infrakingdom, e.g., Protostomia and Deuterostomia in the classification of Cavalier-Smith.


Two kingdoms of life

The classification of living things into animals and plants is an ancient one. Aristotle (384–322 BC) classified animal species in his History of Animals, while his pupil Theophrastus (c. 371c. 287 BC) wrote a parallel work, the Historia Plantarum, on plants.

Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) laid the foundations for modern biological nomenclature, now regulated by the Nomenclature Codes, in 1735. He distinguished two kingdoms of living things: Regnum Animale ('animal kingdom') and Regnum Vegetabile ('vegetable kingdom', for plants). Linnaeus also included minerals in his classification system, placing them in a third kingdom, Regnum Lapideum.

Haeckel arbol bn
Haeckel's original (1866) conception of the three kingdoms of life, including the new kingdom Protista. Notice the inclusion of the cyanobacterium Nostoc with plants.

In 1674, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, often called the "father of microscopy", sent the Royal Society of London a copy of his first observations of microscopic single-celled organisms. Until then, the existence of such microscopic organisms was entirely unknown. Despite this, Linnaeus did not include any microscopic creatures in his original taxonomy.

At first, microscopic organisms were classified within the animal and plant kingdoms. In 1860 John Hogg proposed the Protoctista, a third kingdom of life composed of "all the lower creatures, or the primary organic beings".

The development of microscopy revealed important distinctions between those organisms whose cells do not have a distinct nucleus (prokaryotes) and organisms whose cells do have a distinct nucleus (eukaryotes). In 1937 Édouard Chatton introduced the terms "prokaryote" and "eukaryote" to differentiate these organisms.

In 1938, Herbert F. Copeland proposed a four-kingdom classification by creating the novel Kingdom Monera of prokaryotic organisms.

In the 1960s, Roger Stanier and C. B. van Niel promoted and popularized Édouard Chatton's earlier work, particularly in their paper of 1962, "The Concept of a Bacterium"; this created, for the first time, a rank above kingdom—a superkingdom or empire—with the two-empire system of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. The two-empire system would later be expanded to the three-domain system of Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryota.

The differences between fungi and other organisms regarded as plants had long been recognised by some. Robert Whittaker recognized an additional kingdom for the Fungi. The resulting five-kingdom system, proposed in 1969 by Whittaker, has become a popular standard and with some refinement is still used in many works and forms the basis for new multi-kingdom systems. It is based mainly upon differences in nutrition.

In 1977, Carl Woese and colleagues created a six-kingdom model, where the kingdom Monera is replaced by the kingdoms Bacteria and Archaea. This six-kingdom model is commonly used in recent US high school biology textbooks, but has received criticism for compromising the current scientific consensus.

A seven- and eight-kingdom systems were also proposed. However, modern school textbooks stick to either five- or six-kingdom systems.

Woese et al.
Woese et al.
2 kingdoms 3 kingdoms 2 empires 4 kingdoms 5 kingdoms 6 kingdoms 3 domains 8 kingdoms 6 kingdoms
(not treated) Protista Prokaryota Monera Monera Eubacteria Bacteria Eubacteria Bacteria
Archaebacteria Archaea Archaebacteria
Eukaryota Protoctista Protista Protista Eucarya Archezoa Protozoa
Chromista Chromista
Vegetabilia Plantae Plantae Plantae Plantae Plantae Plantae
Fungi Fungi Fungi Fungi
Animalia Animalia Animalia Animalia Animalia Animalia Animalia

The kingdom-level classification of life is widely employed as a useful way of grouping organisms.As of April 2010, no set of kingdoms is sufficiently supported by research to attain widespread acceptance. In 2009, Andrew Roger and Alastair Simpson emphasized the need for diligence in analyzing new discoveries: "With the current pace of change in our understanding of the eukaryote tree of life, we should proceed with caution."


The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses uses the taxonomic rank "kingdom" for the classification of viruses (with the suffix -virae); but this is beneath the top level classifications of realm and subrealm.

There is ongoing debate as to whether viruses can be included in the tree of life. The arguments against include the fact that they are obligate intracellular parasites that lack metabolism and are not capable of replication outside of a host cell. Another argument is that their placement in the tree would be problematic, since it is suspected that viruses have arisen multiple times, and they have a penchant for harvesting nucleotide sequences from their hosts.

On the other hand, arguments favor their inclusion. One comes from the discovery of unusually large and complex viruses, such as Mimivirus, that possess typical cellular genes.

See also

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