Over the past few weeks I have been able to add several new species to my life list mostly because I have begun to pay extremely close attention to the identification of some difficult birds. Since some of the species I have been looking for are so incredibly difficult to identify, I have begun to wonder about the definition of a species and why do we have this compulsion to classify animals.
Modern taxonomy started with Linnaeus in the 18th century and today we continue to expand on his systematic classification of plants and animals. Taxonomy is the process of classifying a species within the context of other related species. Closely related species for example are placed in the same genera while closely related genera are placed in the same family. On and on it goes up through orders, classes, phyla, and eventually kingdoms.
Could this desire to classify and place each animal in a defined category be motivated by our attempt to seek order out of chaos? This classification does provide evolutionary context for a species, which can valuable for scientists trying to study any particular species. First, let’s back up a few steps to the very beginning…
What is a species?