Neontology is that part of biology which—in contrast to paleontology—deals with living (or, more generally, recent) organisms. It is the study of extant taxa (singular: extant taxon). This means taxa (such as species, genera and families) some of whose members are still alive as opposed to (all) being extinct. For example:
- The moose is an extant species, while the dodo is an extinct species.
- In the group of molluscs known as the cephalopods, as of 1987[update] there were approximately 600 extant species and 7,500 extinct species.
A taxon can be classified as extinct if it is broadly agreed or certified that no members of the group are still alive. Conversely, an extinct taxon can be re-classified as extant if there are new discoveries of extant species, or if previously-known extant species are re-classified as members of the taxon.
The term neontologist is used largely by paleontologists referring to non-paleontologists. Stephen Jay Gould said of neontology:
All professions maintain their parochialisms, and I trust that nonpaleontological readers will forgive our major manifestation. We are paleontologists, so we need a name to contrast ourselves with all you folks who study modern organisms in human or ecological time. You therefore become neontologists. We do recognize the unbalanced and parochial nature of this dichotomous division – much like my grandmother's parsing of Homo sapiens into the two categories of 'Jews' and 'non-Jews'.