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Life on the move I – introducing animal diversity

Calver, M.C.ORCID: 0000-0001-9082-2902 and Lymbery, A.ORCID: 0000-0002-0542-3446 (2009) Life on the move I – introducing animal diversity. In: Calver, M.C., Lymbery, A., McComb, J.A. and Bamford, M., (eds.) Environmental biology. Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, pp. 286-303.


The animal kingdom includes many large and beautiful creatures. It is easy to engage the public’s sympathy for the plight of endangered animals such as tigers and pandas, or, closer to home, Tasmanian devils and numbats, and these animals are often the focus of intense conservation efforts. Parasites, on the other hand, live in or on other organisms. They are typically small, hard to see and often harm their hosts, so they are usually either ignored or regarded as a nuisance in practical conservation programs. This is a simplistic view. Parasites have vital roles to play in the functioning of natural ecosystems. In recent years it has been realised that many parasites are valuable indicator species, and their disappearance from an ecosystem is often a symptom of a deeper, underlying problem resulting from pollutants or other human impacts. Particularly important as indicators of environmental quality are parasites with complex life cycles, that travel through a range of different host species on their way from egg to adult. Figure 13.1, for example, shows the life cycle of a species of flatworm that lives in freshwater ecosystems in Australia. A parasite such as this may be a very sensitive indicator of environmental quality. The parasite and its various hosts are bound in a complex web of feeding interactions. They all have very different body structures and very different lifestyles and the environment in which they live must support all of these. If changes to the environment adversely affect any of its hosts, the parasite will be unable to complete its life cycle and will disappear. Despite their wide range of body structures and lifestyles, all the organisms in this complex web are animals. Unlike plants, most animals are motile and feed in many different ways and as a consequence have a much greater diversity of structure and function than do plants.

Chapter aims: This chapter explains what all animals have in common, describes the influence of environment, lifestyle and size on how different animals solve the problems of life, and outlines how the main types of body plan found in the animal kingdom can be used to group and classify animals.

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: (c) Michael Calver, Alan Lymbery, Jennifer McComb, Michael Bamford
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