Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May 13: Carl von Linné

Carl von Linné
May 13, 1707 – January 10, 1778

Carl von Linné (Carl Linnaeus) was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. He is known as the father of modern taxonomy, and is also considered one of the fathers of modern ecology.

In the history of science, the Scientific Revolution is a period when new ideas in physics, astronomy, biology, human anatomy, chemistry, and other sciences led to a rejection of doctrines that had prevailed from Ancient Greece through the Middle Ages, and laid the foundation of modern science. According to the majority of scholars, the Scientific Revolution began with the publication of two works that changed the course of science in 1543 and continued through the late 17th century.

In his Systema Naturae, published in 1767, Carl von Linné cataloged all the living creatures into a single system that defined their morphological relations to one another: the Linnean classification system. Linné is one of the great figures in science; one who embodies the spirit of discovery that guided the great astronomers of the Scientific Revolution.

Linnaeus's main contribution to taxonomy was to establish conventions for the naming of living organisms that became universally accepted in the scientific world—the work of Linnaeus represents the starting point of binomial nomenclature. In addition Linnaeus developed, during the great 18th century expansion of natural history knowledge, what became known as the Linnaean taxonomy; the system of scientific classification now widely used in the biological sciences.

The Linnaean system classified nature within a hierarchy, starting with three kingdoms. Kingdoms were divided into Classes and they, in turn, into Orders, which were divided into Genera (singular: genus), which were divided into Species (singular: species). Below the rank of species he sometimes recognized taxa of a lower (unnamed) rank (for plants these are now called "varieties"). His groupings were based upon shared physical characteristics.

Only his groupings for animals remain to this day, and the groupings themselves have been significantly changed since Linnaeus' conception, as have the principles behind them. Nevertheless, Linnaeus is credited with establishing the idea of a hierarchical structure of classification which is based upon observable characteristics. While the underlying details concerning what are considered to be scientifically valid 'observable characteristics' has changed with expanding knowledge (for example, DNA sequencing, unavailable in Linnaeus' time, has proven to be a tool of considerable utility for classifying living organisms and establishing their relationships to each other), the fundamental principle remains sound.

The Lunar crater Linné is named in his honor.

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