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UK Nature > Scientific Classifications explained


Classification

In the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus published a system for classifying living things, which has been developed into the modern classification system. People have always given names to things that they see, including plants and animals, but Linnaeus was the first scientist to develop a hierarchal naming structure that conveyed information both about what the species was (its name) and also its closest relatives. The ability of the Linnean system to convey complex relationships to scientists throughout the world is why it has been so widely adopted.

Despite existing for hundreds of years, the science of classification is far from dead. Classification of many species, old and new, continues to be hotly disputed as scientists find new information or interpret facts in new ways. Arguments are fierce and species do change names, but only after a wealth of information has been gathered to support such a big step. One of the new reasons why species are being re-evaluated is because of DNA analysis. Basic genetic analysis information can change our ideas of how closely two species are related and so their classification can change, but how does the whole system work?


Kingdoms
The first rank in this system is called a kingdom. There are five kingdoms (some scientists want a sixth to be included - viruses), based upon what an organism's cells are like:

• animalia (all multicellular animals)
• plantae (all green plants)
• fungi (moulds, mushrooms, yeast)
• prokaryotae (bacteria, blue-green algae)
• protoctista (amoeba, paramecium).

Further divisions
There are several further ranks before we reach a particular species. In order, these are:

• kingdom
• phylum
• class
• order
• family
• genus
• species


For example, Sympetrum striolatum, the Common Darter dragonfly, has the following classification:

• Kingdom - Animalia
• Phylum - Arthropoda
• Class - Insecta
• Order - Odonata
• Suborder - Anisoptera
• Family - Libellulidae
• Genus - Sympetrum
• Species - S.striolatum

Being able to classify species is important as it allows us to accurately identify individual species wherever they are. For example - a robin in America isn’t the same as a robin in the UK, so by using the binomial name Turdus migratorius (American robin) or Erithacus rubecula (UK robin) then there is no confusion.

Binomial classification is important because it can:

• clearly identify species
• study and conserve species
• target conservation efforts











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