History of Taxonomy Essay

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History of Taxonomy

Taxonomy has a long history, spanning the course of over 2,000 years. It has grown and developed into one of the major branches of biology. Today, it is a universal methodology of grouping organisms according to their characteristics and their evolutionary history. (Source: Modern Biology 337)

One of the oldest known systems of classification is that of Aristotle, who lived around 300 B.C. Dichotomies, or polar opposites, were what Aristotle based his division of the complexity of life upon. He divided organisms into two primary groups: animals and plants. Then, he applied his dichotomy-based classification to these two groups. For instance, Aristotle divided animals into
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Swiss botanist Caspar Bauhin, who classifed an extensive list of plants, used Cesalpino's method in his cataloguing. Bauhin was also the first to organize plants into a crude system that resembles modern genera and species. The 16th century also marked significant advancement in the classification of animals. Pierre Belon, a French naturalist, conducted extensive research and classification of birds. Using habitat adaptation as a standard of dividing birds into groups (i.e. aquatic birds, wading birds, birds of prey, perching birds, and land birds, all categories still used informally today) was first started by Belon. In the 17th century, English naturalist John Ray followed in Andrea Cesalpino's footsteps and used character weighting when grouping organisms. Except, he grouped animals, while Cesalpino had grouped plants. (Microsoft Encarta 2003 Classification)

This rapid increase in discovery of organisms led to two major problems in Aristotle's classification system. For one, using a common name to name an organism was not universal, as there were many places throughout the world, each with their own language. So, what would be "cat" in England would be "gato" in Spain, to name one example. Scientists decided upon using Latin, at the time the language of educated people, as the universal language of