Systematics: Historical Overview


Prior to Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, the origin of systematics dates back to the Greeks, but it was the development of the Greek model by Linnaeus in the middle of the eighteenth century that is recognized as the starting point of systematics. The changes in method that have come about since that time are largely due to different appreciations as to what constitutes homology, hierarchy and the relationship between systematics and evolution.

Keywords: systematics; taxonomy; phenetics; cladistics; computer algorithms; parsimony

Figure 1.

The tree‐of‐Porphyry. After Baldwin (1911) figure on page 714.

Figure 2.

Bronn's tree of animal relationships, with geological time and level of organization conflated along the axis. After Bronn .

Figure 3.

A presumed phylogeny used to depict a ‘grade’ classification of Mayr and others. In example 1, B=orang‐utan, C=gorilla and chimpanzee, D=Homo sapiens (Mayr, ). In example 2, B= other diapsid reptiles, C=crocodilians and D=birds. A=the common ancestor in both examples.



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Mayr E (1969) Principles of Systematic Zoology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mayr E (1974) Cladistic analysis or cladistic classification. Zeitschrift für Zoologische Systematik und Evolutionsforschung 12: 19–128.

Sneath PHA and Sokal RR (1973) Numerical Taxonomy:The Principles and Practice of Numerical Classification. San Francisco: WH Freeman.

Further Reading

Panchen AL (1992) Classification, Evolution and the Nature of Biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nelson G and Platnick NI (1981) Systematics and Biogeography: Cladistics and Vicariance. New York: Columbia University Press.

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How to Cite close
Humphries, Christopher J(Sep 2005) Systematics: Historical Overview. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003337]