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level classification of all living organisms

While some descriptions of taxonomic history attempt to date taxonomy to ancient civilizations, a truly scientific attempt to classify organisms did not occur until the 18th century. Earlier works were primarily descriptive and focused on plants that were useful in agriculture or medicine. There are a number of stages in this scientific thinking. Early taxonomy was based on arbitrary criteria, the so-called “artificial systems”, including Linnaeus’s system of sexual classification. Later came systems based on a more complete consideration of the characteristics of taxa, referred to as “natural systems”, such as those of de Jussieu (1789), de Candolle (1813) and Bentham and Hooker (1862–1863). These were pre-evolutionary in thinking. The publication of Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species (1859) led to new ways of thinking about classification based on evolutionary relationships. This was the concept of phyletic systems, from 1883 onwards. This approach was typified by those of Eichler (1883) and Engler (1886–1892). The advent of molecular genetics and statistical methodology allowed the creation of the modern era of “phylogenetic systems” based on cladistics, rather than morphology alone.[19][20][21]


Early taxonomists[edit]

Naming and classifying our surroundings has probably been taking place as long as mankind has been able to communicate. It would always have been important to know the names of poisonous and edible plants and animals in order to communicate this information to other members of the family or group. Medicinal plant illustrations show up in Egyptian wall paintings from c. 1500 BC, indicating that the uses of different species were understood and that a basic taxonomy was in place.[22]

Ancient times[edit]

Further information: Aristotle’s biology § Classification

Organisms were first classified by Aristotle (Greece, 384–322 BC) during his stay on the Island of Lesbos.[23][24][25] He classified beings by their parts, or in modern terms attributes, such as having live birth, having four legs, laying eggs, having blood, or being warm-bodied.[26] He divided all living things into two groups: plants and animals.[24] Some of his groups of animals, such as Anhaima (animals without blood, translated as invertebrates) and Enhaima (animals with blood, roughly the vertebrates), as well as groups like the sharks and cetaceans, are still commonly used today.[27] His student Theophrastus (Greece, 370–285 BC) carried on this tradition, mentioning some 500 plants and their uses in his Historia Plantarum. Again, several plant groups currently still recognized can be traced back to Theophrastus, such as CornusCrocus, and Narcissus.[24]