“Splitters” and “lumpers”
Is classification an art or a science?
What is a species?
But, what is a species concept?
What is the nature of the immediately superior ranks?
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: ARTIFICIAL CLASSIFICATION
Biodiversity studies, or taxonomy/systematics, are a very old science. Development in this
field went hand in hand with the voyages of discovery. Systematics can be regarded as
the broad field that deals with the variety of life on earth.
Ancient classification systems: Preliterate humans
All preliterate societies named and classified useful plants. Plants fell into the following
poisonous (eg fish or arrow poisons)
household (fuel, implements etc)
These classifications belong to ethnotaxonomy and folk taxonomy and they are still found
in most societies today. Early botanical work was part of the oral tradition, and it was only
much later that it was recorded in writing. The oldest known botanical work, by Pen Tsao
(written 4800 years ago), was completed by the Chinese emperor Chien Nung. In this
work the uses of 365 kinds of plants are listed.
Early Western civilisations (300 BC to AD 1500)
Theophrastus (370–285 BC)
A Greek disciple of Aristotle and Plato, he was the first scientist to classify plants and
is known as the “father of botany”.
He inherited Aristotle’s garden and classified the 480 plant taxa in the garden into the
following four groups on the basis of growth habit (rather than on the traditional
method that was based on uses):