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Printed: August 27, 2014 Chapter 1. Classication
Lesson Objectives
Outline the Linnaean classication, and dene binomial nomenclature.
Describe phylogenetic classication, and explain how it differs from Linnaean classication.
binomial nomenclature
Linnaean classication system
phylogenetic tree
The evolution of life on Earth over the past 4 billion years has resulted in a huge variety of species. For more than
2,000 years, humans have been trying to classify the great diversity of life. The science of classifying organisms
is called taxonomy. Classication is an important step in understanding the present diversity and past evolutionary
history of life on Earth.
Linnaean Classication
All modern classication systems have their roots in the Linnaean classication system. It was developed by
Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in the 1700s. He tried to classify all living things that were known at his time.
He grouped together organisms that shared obvious physical traits, such as number of legs or shape of leaves. For
his contribution, Linnaeus is known as the father of taxonomy. You can learn more about Linnaeus and his system
of classication by watching the video at this link: .
The Linnaean system of classication consists of a hierarchy of groupings, called taxa (singular, taxon). Taxa range
from the kingdom to the species (see Figure 1.1). The kingdom is the largest and most inclusive grouping. It
consists of organisms that share just a few basic similarities. Examples are the plant and animal kingdoms. The
species is the smallest and most exclusive grouping. It consists of organisms that are similar enough to produce
fertile offspring together. Closely related species are grouped together in a genus.
Linnaean Classication System: Classi-
cation of the Human Species. This chart
shows the taxa of the Linnaean classica-
tion system. Each taxon is a subdivision
of the taxon below it in the chart. For
example, a species is a subdivision of a
genus. The classication of humans is
given in the chart as an example.
Binomial Nomenclature
Perhaps the single greatest contribution Linnaeus made to science was his method of naming species. This method,
called binomial nomenclature, gives each species a unique, two-word Latin name consisting of the genus name
and the species name. An example is Homo sapiens, the two-word Latin name for humans. It literally means wise
human. This is a reference to our big brains.
Why is having two names so important? It is similar to people having a rst and a last name. You may know several
people with the rst name Michael, but adding Michaels last name usually pins down exactly whom you mean. In
the same way, having two names uniquely identies a species.
Revisions in Linnaean Classication
Linnaeus published his classication system in the 1700s. Since then, many new species have been discovered.
The biochemistry of organisms has also become known. Eventually, scientists realized that Linnaeuss system of
classication needed revision.
A major change to the Linnaean system was the addition of a new taxon called the domain. A domain is a
taxon that is larger and more inclusive than the kingdom. Most biologists agree there are three domains of life
on Earth: Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukaryota (see Figure below). Both Bacteria and Archaea consist of single-celled
prokaryotes. Eukaryota consists of all eukaryotes, from single-celled protists to humans. This domain includes the
Animalia (animals), Plantae (plants), Fungi (fungi), and Protista (protists) kingdoms.
2 Chapter 1. Classication
This phylogenetic tree is based on com-
parisons of ribosomal RNA base se-
quences among living organisms. The
tree divides all organisms into three do-
mains: Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya.
Humans and other animals belong to the
Eukarya domain. From this tree, organ-
isms that make up the domain Eukarya
appear to have shared a more recent
common ancestor with Archaea than Bac-
Phylogenetic Classication
Linnaeus classied organisms based on obvious physical traits. Basically, organisms were grouped together if they
looked alike. After Darwin published his theory of evolution in the 1800s (discussed in the following chapter),
scientists looked for a way to classify organisms that showed phylogeny. Phylogeny is the evolutionary history of a
group of related organisms. It is represented by a phylogenetic tree, like the one in Figure 1.3.
Phylogenetic Tree. This phylogenetic tree
shows how three hypothetical species are
related to each other through common
ancestors. Do you see why Species 1 and
2 are more closely related to each other
than either is to Species 3?
One way of classifying organisms that shows phylogeny is by using the clade. A clade is a group of organisms that
includes an ancestor and all of its descendants. Clades are based on cladistics. This is a method of comparing traits
in related species to determine ancestor-descendant relationships. Clades are represented by cladograms, like the
one in Figure 1.4. This cladogram represents the mammal and reptile clades. The reptile clade includes birds. It
shows that birds evolved from reptiles. Linnaeus classied mammals, reptiles, and birds in separate classes. This
masks their evolutionary relationships.
This cladogram classies mammals, rep-
tiles, and birds in clades based on their
evolutionary relationships.
Lesson Summary
Classication is an important step in understanding life on Earth. All modern classication systems have their
roots in the Linnaean classication system. The Linnaean system is based on similarities in obvious physical
traits. It consists of a hierarchy of taxa, from the kingdom to the species. Each species is given a unique
two-word Latin name. The recently added domain is a larger and more inclusive taxon than the kingdom.
Phylogeny is the evolutionary history of group of related organisms. It is represented by a phylogenetic tree
that shows how species are related to each other through common ancestors. A clade is a group of organisms
that includes an ancestor and all of its descendants. It is a phylogenetic classication, based on evolutionary
Lesson Review Questions
1. What is taxonomy?
2. Dene taxon and give an example.
3. What is binomial nomenclature? Why is it important?
4. What is a domain? What are the three domains of life on Earth?
5. What is cladistics, and what is it used for?
Apply Concepts
6. Create a taxonomy, modeled on the Linnaean classication system, for a set of common objects, such as motor
vehicles, tools, or ofce supplies. Identify the groupings that correspond to the different taxa in the Linnaean system.
7. Dogs and wolves are more closely related to each other than either is to cats. Draw a phylogenetic tree to show
these relationships.
4 Chapter 1. Classication
Think Critically
8. Compare and contrast a Linnaean taxon, such as the family or genus, with the clade.
9. Explain why reptiles and birds are placed in the same clade.
Points to Consider
This chapter gives you a glimpse of 4 billion years of evolution on Earth. In the next chapter, you will read about
the forces that bring about evolution. Natural selection is one of these forces. It generally results in a population or
species becoming better adapted to its environment over time.
How does natural selection work? How does it bring about evolutionary change?
What might be the other forces of evolution?
1. Christopher Auyeung (based on image by Peter Halasz). CK-12 Foundation (original image from http://com . CC BY-NC 3.0 (original
image in public domain)
2. . . Public Domain
3. Mariana Ruiz Villarreal (LadyofHats) for CK-12 Foundation. CK-12 Foundation . CC BY-NC 3.0
4. Mariana Ruiz Villarreal (LadyofHats) for CK-12 Foundation. CK-12 Foundation . CC BY-NC 3.0