EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD Google+ Profile
Carolus Linnaeus (23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778), also known as Carl von Linné or Carl Linnaeus. Swedish botanist, zoologist, and taxonomist. Established conventions for naming living organisms still in general scientific use today—in particular, he popularized binomial nomenclature, which had first been developed by the Bauhin brothers (Gaspard and Johann Bauhin) more than a century before. He was the first to use binomial names consistently. As a young man he was a creationist, but he later developed an evolutionary theory of his own.
Carolus Linnaeus was born at Stenbrohult, in the province of Småland in southern Sweden. His father was a gardening enthusiast, and this interest in plants seems to have rubbed off on the son. His family wanted Linnaeus to enter the priesthood, but he instead chose to study medicine and entered the University of Lund in 1727. The next year he transferred to the University of Uppsala, where he focused his attention on collecting and studying plants, which at that time was nothing strange for a medical student since doctors were then expected to be familiar with a wide range of medicinal plants.
In 1730, he joined the faculty at Uppsala and began lecturing on botany. Two years later he made an expedition to Lapland in northernmost Scandinavia, a region then almost unknown to European science. There he made an inventory of the plant life and investigated the indigenes, the Lapps. He later posed for a famous portrait (left), in which he is dressed in Lapp garb and holds a shaman's drum. In 1734 he mounted another expedition, this time to central Sweden.
However, given the primitive state of medical education in Sweden in those days, Linnaeus found he was for the most part teaching himself. He eventually came to believe that, if he was to have a successful career as a physician, he would need a degree from one of the prestigious Dutch schools of medicine. He fixed on the now defunct University of Harderwijk, perhaps because it allowed students bringing a suitable completed thesis to graduate in as little as a week. And sure enough, on June 23, 1735, just six days after his arrival, he received his Doctor of Medicine. Originally, he had planned to return to Sweden at once, but the physicians and naturalists he met in Holland were so impressed with his writings that they begged him to remain. He stayed three years.
There he supervised the publication of the first edition of the Systema Naturae (the slim beginnings of what would in later editions become his vast catalog of nature), the Genera Plantarum (which describes 935 plant genera), and the Flora Lapponica, where he reported on the plants he had found in Lapland.
It was in the 1735 edition of the Systema Naturae that he made the memorable decision to group apes and human beings in the same category, something no other naturalist had dared to do. This classification was important in prompting later writers to propose that humans had actually evolved from apes.
After his return to Sweden, in 1738, he continued his great inventory of life. With the aid of correspondents who sent him specimens from all corners of the globe, he greatly expanded the number of plants and animals recognized by science. These were all assigned a place in what was to become known as the Linnaean taxonomy, the first version of the system of scientific classification employed by biologists today. For many of these he coined names that are still in general use, including the scientific name for human beings (Homo sapiens).
In compiling his great inventory, he visited many public and private collections in Europe. But he wanted to be as exhaustive as possible so he maintained a correspondence with naturalists throughout the world, who were happy to report to him and have their work recognized. He also sent students out on far-flung voyages in search of novel specimens. For example, Daniel Solander sailed with Captain Cook on his first voyage round the world and became the first university-trained scientist to set foot on the Australian continent, as well as the first Swede to circle the globe.
In the Systema Naturae ("The System of Nature"), he not only classified plants and animals within two kingdoms (Regnum animale and Regnum vegetabile), but also placed minerals in a third kingdom (Regnum lapideum). Within Regnum vegetabile, plants were grouped according the number of their stamens and pistils. The tenth edition of this book (1758), the one in which animals are first assigned binomial names, is considered the starting point of zoological nomenclature.
The first edition of Species Plantarum ("The Species of Plants") was published in 1753. This work is the beginning of all formal botanical taxonomy. No plant names appearing in any earlier literature are now considered to be validly published. In it, a binomial nomenclature for plants is used consistently for the first time. However, the groupings he created for plants have largely been abandoned in modern classification.
The divisions into which he placed animals have held up rather better, although many changes have since been made. But Linnaeus was far more important as a deviser of means, than as an achiever of ends. His method of classification was widely embraced by all naturalists, and in a somewhat expanded form remains the standard among biologists today.
Major works: Systema naturae (1st ed., 1735); Genera Plantarum (1737); Flora Lapponica (1737); Flora Svecica (1745); Fauna Svecica (1746); Species plantarum (1st ed. 1753); Systema naturae (10th ed., 1758).
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