Form & Function in Scientific Systems

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

What are form and function in science? Does form follow function or does function follow form in nature? Learn how the morphology of plants and animals are related to how they survive in an ecosystem in this lesson.

Form & Function in the Natural World

Form and function in science refer to the direct relationship between the structure of a thing and the way it functions. Bears have sharp, curved claws that help them catch fish. Walruses have the blubber they need to keep them warm. Giraffes have long necks that help them reach leaves on tall trees. It is the form and function of every part of a living thing that allows it to survive; it is the form and function of every component of an ecosystem that allows it to thrive.

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  • 0:03 Form & Function In The…
  • 0:30 Morphology & Natural Selection
  • 1:57 Form & Function In Ecosystems
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Morphology & Natural Selection

Form, also known as morphology, refers to the physical structure, shape and size of an organism, both internal and external. Organisms have their unique morphology due to a process of gradual evolution over millions of years. Mutations happen seemingly at random. Some of those mutations are beneficial and help living things to better survive, while others do not. When a mutation is beneficial, that altered organism will have an advantage over others of its species as it competes for resources. In this way, some traits endure in species and others fade away.

The most famous contributor to our understanding of this concept was Charles Darwin. Through his experiences documenting variations in animals while exploring South America and the South Pacific, he formed his theory of natural selection. Natural selection asserts that living things survive or fail to survive due to differences in their traits. Darwin published several books, but most famously first expressed his ideas in his 1859 publication On the Origin of Species. As an example, Darwin observed that there were huge variations in finches in the Galapagos Islands. Each species was a different size and had a differently shaped beak. He noted that the size and shape of each beak was ideal for the particular food source of each species, whether nuts, insects or fruit. Darwin asserted that the function of each species perfectly followed its form.

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