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SCIENCE 1001

TAXONOMY: KEY TO ORGANIZATION

Taxonomy is not about taxes or anything related to the government, taxonomy is the science of classification
and is important in such disciplines as zoology, botany, microbiology, and paleontology. Taxonomy is the
science of grouping living things according to their similarities or differences.

THE HISTORY OF TAXONOMY

BIBLICAL TAXONOMY

Taxonomy is actually essential to our learning process and specifically to our understanding of God’s creation.
Taxonomy is a tool which adds meaning to what we learn and increases our understanding, our
comprehension of God’s creation.

Adam became the first taxonomist because God gave him the privilege and responsibility of naming the
animals (Genesis 2:20).

EARLY HISTORY OF TAXONOMY

The life sciences are built on the science of classification. Historians tells us that one of the common ways
people of ancient times grouped living things was into the categories of useful or harmful. Other groupings
that people commonly use are food, clothing, building, size, and shape, utility, color, composition, value,
danger and the list goes on and on.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle was a student of nature. He classified animals into two main groups: animals
with red blood and animals without red blood. He classified plants into three groups: herbs, shrubs, and
trees. Scientists gave him the title “Father of Zoology”

Theophrastos, a student of Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, was one of the first writers of plant
description. He was named “Father of Botany.” Two of his known works are Enquiry into Plants, and The
Causes of Plants. He wrote about five hundred different kinds of plants which he classified into four main
groups: trees, shrubs, subshrubs, and herbs. He also noted the differences in plant tissues and differences
between flowering and nonflowering plants.

Pliny the Elder wrote about the medicinal and agricultural groupings of plants. His Natural History was one of
the first books printed by movable type.

Dioscorides, a Greek physician in the Roman army, grouped plants and natural materials useful in the
treatment of disease in his work Materia Medica.

A Persian physician compiled a Canon of Medicine. Ibn-Sina was the author of the work which many scientists
compare to Materia Medica.

Otto Brunfels, a Herbalist wrote books with excellent illustrations, called herbals.
Valerius Cordus was one of the first scientists of the Renaissance to use firsthand observations of living plants
to write plant descriptions.

Gaspard Bauhin, a Swiss botanist, took on the enormous task of listing all plants known at that time. He
recorded it in his book Pinax, a plant register.

John Ray, an English botanist, published many works. Methodus Plantarum Nova and Historia Plantarum are
two of his most important writings. His major contribution to taxonomy was the development of a
classification system that grouped plants by the ways they looked alike. The concept of species in
classification was suggested by Ray.

BEGINNING OF MODERN TAXONOMY

This begins with the work of Carolus Linnaeus. He is referred to as the “Father of Modern Taxonomy”. In
1732 the young Swedish botanist went to Lapland to collect plants. His diary describing the new plants was
published as Flora Laponica. He later published, Species Plantarum (1753), the works singled out as the
starting point for modern taxonomy, and Systema Naturae a listing of 4,236 kinds of animals.

Linnaeus’ system classified plants according to flower structure and considered the stamen number most
significant to classification. Another important part of this system was the use of two names together in
identifying an organism.

Carolus Linnaeus believed in the fixity of species and thought he was revealing the grand design of creation
by classifying each living thing.

BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE

SCIENTIFIC NAMES

A more definite system of rules for naming is needed, and that system of rules does exist. This system is
called the binomial nomenclature, or two-name calling, and was developed by Linneaus. This system uses
names that can be understood universally. This uses Latin words.

Binomial nomenclature also uses names that tell us something about the thing named; they tell how an
organism is related to others. The two parts that make up the binomial name indicate genus and species. The
first name of the pair is the generic name and is always capitalized; the second is the species name and is in
lower case.

Classification involves more than genus and species. There are more groupings. The system of classification
depends on groupings within groups. In taxonomy those groupings or categories are referred to as taxa
(singular, taxon). The taxa are ranked, the largest taxon being the kingdom, the smallest, the species.

KINGDOM, PHYLUM (used in animals) OR DIVISION (used in plants) , CLASS, ORDER, FAMILY, GENUS, SPECIES

An International Code of Nomenclature sets specific rules to help decide new scientific names or changes of
names.

CONCEPT OF SPECIES
Two meanings of species are relevant to scientists today. One has to do with reproductive isolation, which
means that organisms are of the same species if they can be interbreed and reproduce for more than one
generation. The main reason for reproductive isolation is based on genetic differences.

The second meaning of species has to do with morphology, or the way a plant or animal looks or grows. The
two meanings of species are related in the sense that the genetics of any living thing contain the code which
determines how that organism will both look and reproduce. Organisms in the same species share many
similarities in morphology.

Variations may occur within a species. These smaller groupings within a species are called varieties, races,
breeds, or subspecies.

PROBLEMS IN CLASSIFYING

New classification systems and taxa, particularly for flowering plants, are needed. Problems in developing a
new and better system include the complexity of classifying, the limitations of knowledge, limitations of
personal experience and the lack of firsthand information. Only with more research will taxonomy become
more precise as a science.

PLANT AND ANIMAL CLASSIFICATION

THE DICHOTOMOUS KEY

One of the most basic tools of the taxonomist is the key. A key is a sorting device that lists choices between
certain characteristics of living things. These choices are listed in a sequence that leads to the identification of
an unknown plant or animal specimen. To be effective, the choices must be parallel; that is, each must offer a
choice between colors or between leaf shapes.

Another criterion for an effective key is that each choice includes the smallest number of choices possible. A
dichotomous key is such a key. It is the simplest means of identification. The word dichotomy means cut or
split into two parts. This is why it is a two-choice key.

Keys are helpful in increasing your observation and awareness skills.

Dichotomous keys may come in more than one form.

PLANT CHARACTERISTICS

One of the ways taxonomists detect or observe similarities and differences is through characteristics of a
plant or an animal. Plants are grouped by characteristics- special features of their plant bodies.

Here are only a few of the characteristics in constructing a plant classification: unicellular or multicellular,
green or nongreen, presence or absence of conductive tissue, presence or absence of seeds, cones or
flowers, leaves with parallel veins or netted veins, flower color, type of flower, type of fruit, leaf
arrangement, leaf shape, special features such as thorns or tendrils and many more.

ANIMAL CHARACTERISTICS
Animals differ from plants in characteristics such as locomotion or movement, lack of cell wall, manner of
acquiring food, manner of growth, and speed of reaction to stimuli. All living things contain protoplasm and
cells; grow in size, number, age, and volume; reproduce like kinds; respond to stimuli; require food; require
removal of waste; and require respiration for life activities.

Animals are grouped according to special features or characteristics of their bodies.

Characteristics which taxonomists might choose in making animal classification include these: unicellular or
multicellular, saclike body or tube-within-a-tube, segmented or nonsegmented, presence or absence of
digestive system, type of symmetry- radial, bilateral, asymmetrical, presence or absence of appendages,
number of legs, exoskeleton or endoskeleton, type of body covering, patterns or coloration, teeth patterns,
special abilities such as flight or swimming.

PLANT CLASSIFICATION

A classification from kingdom to species gives us a great deal of information about an organism. Along with
the information that classification gives, we should take note of the Latin clue endings for taxa. For plants, -
ophyta is a division ending, -ae, or –eae is a class ending, -ales is an order ending, and –aceae is the usual
family ending.

ANIMAL CLASSIFICATION

Word endings for animal taxa are different from those for plant taxa. The –a or –ata endings are used for
phylum; -a or –ae, or –I for order; and –ae for family.

SEARCH FOR A SYSTEM

Systems have from two to five kingdoms depending on the taxonomist. The basic two-kingdom model for
taxonomy is still one of the best tools in teaching classification.

Taxonomy helps to bring order to an immense diversity of life. The listing is monumental. Taxonomy
catalogues this listing for reference, use, research, posterity, and for personal understanding, responsibility,
and management of the millions of kinds of living things. Taxonomy may be referred to as the “mother
science”

TAXONOMY AND ORIGINS

ARTIFICIAL AND NATURAL SYSTEMS

Linnaeus and others in the past used artificial systems of classification such as leaf arrangement, flower color,
economic uses, medicinal uses, or poisonous features. If we want to show relationships, another system
would have to be chosen. This type of relationship has the interest of many taxonomists today who seek
natural systems of classification. However, the modern goal of the natural system is to place organisms into
groupings that also show evolutionary descent from common ancestors. According to this view any
characteristic may then provide clues to relationships and ultimately to evolution.

Plant breeding and animal husbandry science practiced over thousands of years have proved variations
within basic kinds of plants and animals do exist; but, this variation is not a result of evolution from one
species into another, known as speciation. The population of a kind can show variation but only within that
kind.

If evolution were true, taxonomy would not work. One benefit, often overlooked, does exist: using a natural
system within the limits of variation would create many new descriptions and new information on plants and
animal.

MODELS OF ORIGIN

We consider two models of origin, creation and evolution. Both leave some matters unexplained.

Creation: Basic kinds of life forms were created by the direct act of God. These forms have continued to
reproduce their kinds within limits of variation to produce life as we see it today.

Evolution: All life on earth developed from nonliving matter by natural processes. One or few simple life
forms gave rise to new kinds of life to produce life as we see it today.