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Carolus Linnaeus: Classification, Taxonomy & Contributions to Biology

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  • 0:01 Taxonomy and Carolus Linnaeus
  • 1:43 Linnaeus's…
  • 2:58 Binomial Nomenclature
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Lynn Swafford

Lynn has a BS and MS in biology and has taught many college biology courses.

There are millions of species on Earth. How can we name and organize all of them without getting confused? We use a system developed in the 1700s by Carolus Linnaeus. Learn more about him and his contributions in this lesson.

Taxonomy and Carolus Linnaeus

Taxonomy is the part of science that focuses on naming and classifying or grouping organisms. A Swedish naturalist named Carolus Linnaeus is considered the 'Father of Taxonomy' because, in the 1700s, he developed a way to name and organize species that we still use today. His two most important contributions to taxonomy were:

  1. A hierarchical classification system
  2. The system of binomial nomenclature (a 2-part naming method)

Carolus Linnaeus lived from 1707 to 1778.
Carolus Linnaeus

During his lifetime, Linnaeus collected around 40,000 specimens of plants, animals, and shells. He believed it was important to have a standard way of grouping and naming species. So in 1735, he published his first edition of Systema Naturae (The System of Nature), which was a small pamphlet explaining his new system of the classification of nature.

He continued to publish more editions of Systema Naturae that included more named species. In total, Linnaeus named 4,400 animal species and 7,700 plant species using his binomial nomenclature system. The tenth edition of Systema Naturae was published in 1758 and is considered the most important edition. Its full title in English is System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with characters, differences, synonyms, places.

Let's further examine the two main contributions of Carolus Linnaeus.

Linnaeus's Classification System

In Systema Naturae, Linnaeus classified nature into a hierarchy. He proposed that there were three broad groups, called kingdoms, into which the whole of nature could fit. These kingdoms were animals, plants, and minerals. He divided each of these kingdoms into classes. Classes were divided into orders. These were further divided into genera (genus is singular) and then species. We still use this system today, but we have made some changes.

Today, we only use this system to classify living things. (Linnaeus included nonliving things in his mineral kingdom.) Also, we have added a few additional levels in the hierarchy. The broadest level of life is now a domain. All living things fit into only three domains: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya. Within each of these domains there are kingdoms. For example, Eukarya includes the kingdoms Animalia, Fungi, Plantae, and more. Each kingdom contains phyla (singular is phylum), followed by class, order, family, genus, and species. Each level of classification is also called a taxon (plural is taxa).

The eight levels of the hierarchical classification system. Examples for two species are shown: the house cat and the human species.
8 Levels of Classification

Binomial Nomenclature

Before Linnaeus came up with a standardized system of naming, there were often many names for a single species, and these names tended to be long and confusing. Linnaeus decided that all species names should be in Latin and should have two parts. Remember, this 2-part system is called binomial nomenclature. It is still used today and gives every species one unique 2-part scientific name.

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