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Carl von Linne, a giant of natural science

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    Posted: 30 Aug 2009 at 15:00

In Sweden we are holding the  father of the binominal nomenclature, the great scientist Carl von Linne rather high. He lived betwween 1707 and 1778. He was the son of a not very wealthy rural priest but he got the chance to study and also doing extensive travels round Sweden to document natural resources that could be of some use for the Swedish economy. On these travels he documented animals, plants, geography, ethnografy and history from the places he visited. Still today his books from these travels are interesting and entertaining reading.

 

Linne sorted up the nomenclature of plants and animals and introduced the binominal nomenclature where organisms have two names, one for their genus and one for their species. One example is Homo sapiens, it means the genus Homo (man and his extinct relatives as Homo erectus and similar) and the species sapiens (the wise, i e our own species).

 

He named a lot of new species from Both Sweden and from a lot of other countries that his students brought back to him. So if you look through some biology books you can see that the auctors name of many species is Linne.

 

He also revolutionized the study of plants in his time with his sexual system where he sorted plants after characteristics in their reproductive organs (flowers and similar).

 

Carl von Linne had several students who in the 18th century went out in the world to collect plant and animal specimens and to study nature, culture and geography. Some of them came home while others died in foreign countries. These students came to be some of the greatest explorers Sweden have ever had. Around 20 of them went out on shorter or longer journeys. Here are a couple of them:

 

Peter Forskal (1732 to 1763)  traveled with a Danish expedition to the Arabic peninsula where he died in 1763 from Malaria.

 

Johan Peter Falk (1733 to 1774) went out to explore parts of Siberia but became the victim of depression and committed suicide in 1774.

 

Daniel Solander (1733 to 1782)  participated in James Cooks journey round the globe. He was one of the botanics that gave rise to the name Botany Bay in Australia.

 

Anders Sparrman (1748 to 1820)  went to Africa and China and he also participated in James Cooks second voyage.

 

Per Kalm (1716 to 1779) travelled to Russia and Ukraine. Later he went to North America. There he among other things interviewed descendants to the New Sweden colonists, whereof some still spoke Swedish.

 

Per Osbeck (1723 to1805) went to China and to Java with one of the ships from the Swedish East India Company.

 

Carl Peter Thunberg (1743 to1828)  travelled to South Africas Cape province where he stayed for a while and did botanical studies. Later he went to Indonesia and then to Japan. He also visited Ceylon. Interestingly enough he is today more well known in South Africa and Japan than he is in Sweden.

 

Per Loefling (1729 to1756) visited first the Iberian peninsula and then travelled to South America. He died in Venezuela only 27 years old.

 

 

During his life Carl von Linne accuired extensive collections of plants, animals and other things. After his death his widow sold much of them so they ended up in England. There they are guarded and treasured by the organisation Linnean Society. The collections include 14,000 plants, 158 fish, 1,564 shells, 3,198 insects, 1,600 books and 3,000 letters and documents.

 

It is rather a pity that such collections ended up abroad but the society seems to do a good job preserving them so one shall maybe not complain.

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Anton View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Anton Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Aug 2009 at 15:44
Originally posted by Carcharodon Carcharodon wrote:

 

He named a lot of new species from Both Sweden and from a lot of other countries that his students brought back to him. So if you look through some biology books you can see that the auctors name of many species is Linne.

 



As far as I remember, Linne is the author by default in species catalogues. So if the author of a certain species is not shown then it was described by Linne.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Aug 2009 at 17:46
I do not know how many species he actually described but it must have been a lot. It seems that his working capacity was rather high.
He also wrote several books, held a lot of (very popular) lectures, mentored many students, wrote a lot of letters to colleagues in Sweden and abroad and also found time to be together with his family. He seems to have been able to stretch time itself.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Anton Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Aug 2009 at 21:02
I don't know either, but I am pretty sure he described most of European species.
I also heard a story that his students made a joke on him by presenting him an artificial flower containing parts of different species and asked him to classify this one. He was able to recognise all of them :)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Anton Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Aug 2009 at 21:09

No I was wrong, wiki says he classified some 1500 plants and many animals. Yet, it is very impressive job for histimes.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Aug 2009 at 21:18
Yeah. Rocks are living beings. Well done, von Linne!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Anton Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Aug 2009 at 22:54
Originally posted by rider rider wrote:

Yeah. Rocks are living beings. Well done, von Linne!
He did not consider rocks as living beings did he?
 
 
Besides, it was 17th century remember? ;)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Aug 2009 at 11:46
If I remember right, it was Linne who classed all living beings into four categories, one of which were rocks.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Styrbiorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Aug 2009 at 12:40
Originally posted by rider rider wrote:

If I remember right, it was Linne who classed all living beings into four categories, one of which were rocks.


He tried using the same classification system for rocks, but I doubt he considered them alive.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Aug 2009 at 18:16
Seing stones as some kind of living matter was not so unusual in old times. Already in antiquity fossils where sometimes explained as manifestations of a sort of life force that were immanent in the rock itself. But Linne probably did not see stones as living organism.
He also understood the true nature of fossils.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Aug 2009 at 18:27
Linne also classified human races in a system of his own. The types he proposed were:

Homo Americanus, red, coleric, black hair, wide noses
Homo Europaeus, white, sangvinic, inventive, muscular
Homo Asiaticus, Yellow, hard, guided by imagination,
Homo Afericanus, black,  flegmatic, loose in flesh, the breasts of the women give plenty of milk
Homo Monstrosus, many types (including Canadians, disabled, Hottentots and men with one testicle)

Edited by Carcharodon - 31 Aug 2009 at 18:29
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Knights Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Sep 2009 at 05:24
Linnaeus definitely had a most profound influence on taxonomic biology, particularly botanic and zoological biology. His classification system of binomial nomenclature essentially lay the foundations for Darwinian evolution to draw phylogenic relationships between organisms, to trace evolutionary history and formulate this idea of a 'common ancestor'. Of course, nowadays, a lot of Linnaeus' criteria for classification are being overruled by molecular biology, where protein sequencing and DNA analysis are being proven superior to anatomical homology as a means of drawing relationships between species.

But in spite of his work being phased out to an extent, I think without Linnaeus biology would not have had a structural foundation to build itself upon. For his work both in the lab, at the drawing board and in the field, he is certainly one of my most respected biological scientists. He was able to format taxonomy into a more 'universal' framework, where by which scientists the world over could discuss, debate and further understanding on the same playing field.

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