Taxonomy (biology)

Description of rare animals (写生珍禽图), by Song dynasty painter Huang Quan (903–965)
Title page of Systema Naturae, Leiden, 1735
Evolution of the vertebrates at class level, width of spindles indicating number of families. Spindle diagrams are typical for evolutionary taxonomy
The same relationship, expressed as a cladogram typical for cladistics
The basic scheme of modern classification. Many other levels can be used; domain, the highest level within life, is both new and disputed.
Type specimen for Nepenthes smilesii, a tropical pitcher plant
A comparison of phylogenetic and phenetic (character-based) concepts

Scientific study of naming, defining and classifying groups of biological organisms based on shared characteristics.

- Taxonomy (biology)

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Circumscription (taxonomy)

Description of rare animals (写生珍禽图), by Song dynasty painter Huang Quan (903–965)

In biological taxonomy, circumscription is the content of a taxon, that is, the delimitation of which subordinate taxa are parts of that taxon.

Ernst Mayr

For another person with the same name, see Ernst Mayr (computer scientist).

Mayr in 1994
Bust of Mayr in Berlin's Natural History Museum

He was also a renowned taxonomist, tropical explorer, ornithologist, philosopher of biology, and historian of science.


Study of the evolutionary history and relationships among or within groups of organisms.

Branching tree diagram from Heinrich Georg Bronn's work (1858)
Phylogenetic tree suggested by Haeckel (1866)

Taxonomy is the identification, naming and classification of organisms.


Study of the diversification of living forms, both past and present, and the relationships among living things through time.

A comparison of phylogenetic and phenetic (character-based) concepts

In 1970 Michener et al. defined "systematic biology" and "taxonomy" (terms that are often confused and used interchangeably) in relationship to one another as follows:


Specialist work of writing or exhibition on a single subject or an aspect of a subject, often by a single author or artist, and usually on a scholarly subject.

The Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, the best-known traditional reference book in German-speaking countries

In biological taxonomy, a monograph is a comprehensive treatment of a taxon.


Willi Hennig 1972
Peter Chalmers Mitchell in 1920
Robert John Tillyard
Cladogram of the primates, showing a monophyletic taxon (a clade: the simians or Anthropoidea, in yellow), a paraphyletic taxon (the prosimians, in blue, including the red patch), and a polyphyletic taxon (the nocturnal primates – the lorises and the tarsiers – in red)

Cladistics is an approach to biological classification in which organisms are categorized in groups ("clades") based on hypotheses of most recent common ancestry.

Adolf Engler

German botanist.

Engler's grave marker at the Berlin Botanical Garden
Alangium salviifolium
plate from Das Pflanzenreich

He is notable for his work on plant taxonomy and phytogeography, such as Die natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien (The Natural Plant Families), edited with Karl A. E. von Prantl.

Taxonomic rank

The major ranks: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species, applied to the red fox, Vulpes vulpes.

In biological classification, taxonomic rank is the relative level of a group of organisms (a taxon) in a taxonomic hierarchy.

Kingdom (biology)

Second highest taxonomic rank, just below domain.

Haeckel's original (1866) conception of the three kingdoms of life, including the new kingdom Protista. Notice the inclusion of the cyanobacterium Nostoc with plants.
Phylogenetic and symbiogenetic tree of living organisms, showing the origins of eukaryotes and prokaryotes
One hypothesis of eukaryotic relationships depicted by Alastair Simpson

Linnaeus also included minerals in his classification system, placing them in a third kingdom, Regnum Lapideum.

Augustin Pyramus de Candolle

Swiss botanist.

A. P. de Candolle
de Candolle family home in Geneva

While in Montpellier, de Candolle published his Théorie élémentaire de la botanique (Elementary Theory of Botany, 1813), which introduced a new classification system and the word taxonomy.