The Problem with Biodiversity
Carolus Linnaeus, who was born almost exactly three hundred years ago, on 23 May 1707, was the founder of modern systematics and taxonomy, the sciences of classifying and naming living things. Science has no holy books, but Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae comes close. Its tenth edition, published in Stockholm in 1758, was the starting point of zoological classification, and the binomial system for naming – one for the genus, e.g. Homo, and one for the species, e.g. sapiens – is still the norm. Linnaeus was also a talented taxonomist in his own right; many of the species he described without the aid of modern microscopes and molecular methods still stand. He was, you might say, a founding father of biodiversity studies.
Vol. 29 No. 15 · 2 August 2007
Hugh Pennington’s soothing words about the non-extinction of species do not square with my own experience of my three and a half acres in Tuscany (LRB, 10 May). In 1970, when I first came here, long green grass snakes slithered away as one walked the forest paths; the last one I saw in recent years was taking refuge in my greenhouse. On my terrace in the 1970s I would kill as many as six vipers in a season; there are none now. My dog was seldom without a hedgehog in his mouth (I would throw them over the cliff to save them from dying of fright); there are none now. Small wild orchids, mauve, terracotta and creamy white, appeared in drifts in late spring; there are none now. Beautiful large green lizards were plentiful; there are none now, although smaller brown ones have multiplied. I could go on, and on.