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Order out of chaos – classification and naming in biology

Human beings have long classified the world around them; the creation myths of most religions have as significant elements a classification of the rest of life on Earth. Medieval herbalists recognised groups of plants by their uses, and gradually systems for the classification and naming of organisms became essential for reference and learning purposes, but increasingly complex and unwieldy. Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century and Charles Darwin in the 19th century both provided concepts leading to paradigm shifts in naming and classification. Cladistic tree-thinking beginning in the mid-20th century did the same. I discussed the role of biological classification in the study of biology itself, and how the intertwining of classification and naming can cause problems for biologists. Most biology today is done with reference to the phylogenetic or evolutionary Tree of Life - this may or may not be a classification in the strict sense. Do we even need a classification of life on Earth today, or will the tree itself be sufficient?

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