Why are Living Organisms Classified?

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Why is it Necessary to Classify Living Things?

This world is filled with various kinds of living organisms. But this big complex living world with such diversity is as much a big and difficult task to study as it is interesting. For a proper scientific understanding of their differences and similarities and their typical attributes, there needs to be an organizational system in place that makes it easier for a scientific study. Plus, there is an incredibly high possibility that a particular type of organism is known differently at different places owing to different cultural aspects around the area. Therefore, to avoid such huge factors of confusion and to understand the different properties of the physical and genetic qualities of living organisms, a categorical classification of living things becomes necessary. This is an apt simple explanation for the question of why is classification of living things important.

Classification of Living Organisms

Humans beings share a very close evolutionary relationship and are descendants of monkeys. But this close relationship does not exist between a human being and a cow or cat for that matter. So the typical behavior and development of the biology in a monkey and a human being will be more similar but will be more different with respect to the cow. Such issues of scientific reasoning will fall into trouble when an attempt is made to study the diverse types of living organisms and their wide variety of characteristics. Hence, as mentioned above, the justification for why is it important to classify living organisms stands valid from this point of view as well.

To understand the huge life around us, and to understand their evolutionary process and scientific reasoning for the biological development of different organs and their usability, living things need to be classified. This classification can be done by dividing the organisms into huge groups based upon the fundamental characteristics that are shared between all the living beings in the group. These bigger categories can be divided into further subcategories based upon the increasing number of shared qualities amongst them. Going forward the characteristic may be less defining for the whole bigger group but it will still be important for their own smaller group. For example, if all the animals in a group, will have some fundamental similarities such as the existence of limbs, their multicellularity, etc. But there will be significant differences between a cow, a wolf, a human being, etc. After understanding in good detail why are living organisms classified understanding the basis of classification becomes equally important which is explained further.

Basis of Classification of Living Organisms 

There have been sincere attempts to classify living organisms since ancient times. These attempts are self-explanatory for the question of why is it necessary to classify living things. Aristotle had tried to classify living organisms based on their very generic habitat. He had classified them as organisms living on land, living in water, and living in the air. Even though a very simple and basic classification this type of classification has a huge flaw. The organisms living in water do not share many fundamental similarities except that they reside in water. Even then their similar habitat has not led to the evolution of corals, whales, and octopuses in any similar manner. 

The scientific studies performed after the Aristotle era, explored more physiological qualities of animals, and then to the most recent 19th century it progressed slowly. Hence, the manner in which organisms kept on being classified kept changing. Carl Linnaeus is credited with the idea of the modern system of classification that is followed. There have been quite a few changes in that system but he is well-known for the creation of the modern classification system and correctly credited for the binomial nomenclature of living organisms. The modern system of classification of living organisms is based on the inclusion of several fundamental inter-related characteristics even as basic as the type of cell. Several attributes a few of which given below are taken into account while classifying organisms according to the modern classification systems: 

  • Type of Cell -

Eukaryotic or Prokaryotic based upon the level of organization of the nucleus or the cell organelles

  • Type of Body Organisation - 

Unicellular or Multicellular depending upon how the cells carry out their functions or are there a hierarchy in the multicellular organization of the cells and if yes then what level of organization.

  • Type of Food Generation - 

Plants and Algae and Animals characterized by their ability to make their own food. The presence of pigments like chlorophyll and the organizational level of self food-producing organisms.

A clear difference between plants and animals exists and is visible through the classification system in practice as well. There is also a difference between plants and algae. They both produce their own food and yet are quite different at the type of body and the body organization level. They both in turn are different from unicellular organisms such cyanobacteria which are very very small in size as compared to plants and algae. Thus, a further hierarchy gets created as you move down the classification system when genetic qualities are also included. There are phylogenetic trees showing relationships between organisms of different hierarchies as well. But a classification needs to exist before the relationships can be established. When the classification is considered in the form of a tree then as you move higher and higher from the base classification such as plants and animals the branching happens to be more diversified and more complex.

Modern System of Classification

Why is it necessary to classify living organisms can be clear from the above explanation and also the details provided for the basis of classification. Owing to the difficult efforts given by the scientists for classifying living organisms a modern system of classification has been placed for some time. This system of classification is adaptive to the changing nature in the field of taxonomy - the study of naming and classifying organisms. Although Carl Linnaeus may have paved the way for modern classification biologists, Ernst Hackel, Robert Whittaker, and Carl Woese have made impactful contributions to the modern system of classification. The following level of organization is widely used in modern classification and is also shown in the figure:

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It should be noted that this system of classification closely follows the evolutionary aspects of the living organisms as well. Categorizing the living organisms in this manner not only helps in listing different species of organisms but also in understanding evolutionary ancestors and cross-relationships between them. Thus, it answers clearly as to why the classification of living organisms is important.

Given above is a detailed note on the topic of why are living organisms classified. It explores the reasons for scientific study and understanding of relationships between organisms that need a classification system. It describes the question of why is it important to classify living things, but also gives the basis on which the living organisms are classified. The modern system of classification serves as a prime example and the basis for why is classification of living organisms important.

Fun Facts on Classification of Living Organisms

For students to generally learn about the order of classification of living things, or remember them, the use of mnemonics can be very helpful. One such mnemonic for the classification of living organisms is: King Philip came over for good spaghetti, which stands for Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.

Another important characteristic is that a species is usually defined as individuals that can reproduce. This also arises from the fact that reproduction is one of the important features of all creatures termed as living things.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is the classification of Living Organisms?

Ans: The diverse variety of organisms are classified on the basis of their very basic shared characteristics. These large groups can further be classified into smaller groups with an increasing number of shared characteristics amongst the organisms. This idea led to the modern classification of living organisms based on kingdoms. 

2. What are the seven classifications of living things?

Ans: The seven classifications of living things are: Kingdom, Phyla/Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. Every organism has been scientifically named using its genus and species name making it easier to classify and understand several relationships between their characteristics. The Phyla is used in the case of the Animal kingdom whereas the Division terminology is used in the case of the Plant kingdom.

3. What is the five-kingdom classification of living organisms?

Ans: The five-kingdom classification of living organisms was given by Robert Whittaker. It divides all the living organisms into five broad groups known as kingdoms depending upon their shared characteristics such as cell type, self food-producing capability, etc. These five kingdoms are Monera, Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia.