We describe an information theoretic method for measuring relative organismal complexity. The complexity measure is based on the amount of information contained in formal taxonomic descriptions of organisms. We examine the utility of this measure for quantifying the complexity of plant families. The descriptions are subjective by nature, but we find a significant correlation in the complexity values of plant families from two independently authored sets of formal taxonomic descriptions. An analysis of the evolution of complexity across angiosperms found evidence of a pattern of increasing complexity. Our measure of complexity provides an operational definition of complexity that may be applied to any group of organisms and will enable further empirical studies of the evolution of complexity.
J. G. Burleigh, J. B. Whittall, and M. J. Sanderson. "The evolution of organismal complexity in angiosperms as measured by the information content of taxonomic descriptions", 9/01/2006, "Workshop Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems.", "MIT Press, pp. 87-92."