Aristotle “the father of marine biodiversity” – Part 1
Did you know that the great Greek philosopher Aristotle can also be regarded as “the father of marine biodiversity”? He spent a considerable part of his life studying marine species.
More than 40% of the animals that Aristotle studied in his zoological works had a marine origin. If Aristotle were still alive today, he would have made an excellent ambassador for modern marine biodiversity research.
To highlight his very early contributions to the study of marine biodiversity, the LIFEWATCH Regional Port collected a series of five stories that cover different aspects of Aristotle’s life and research, linking his work to current initiatives and projects, and demonstrating that at least part of his work is still relevant and very much alive today. One out of the five stories is: “Aristotle, the ‘marine Linnaeus’ avant la lettre”.
Aristotle, the ‘marine Linnaeus’ avant la lettre
The great philosopher Aristotle was born in 384 BC. Aristotle was a universal scientist with a wide interest. He was the first to define the scientific method and a pioneer in the study of living organisms. Moreover, he was the first to systematically observe and describe biological diversity, as well as to develop the first classification of animals.
Illustration of a crab present in the ‘Kitab Na’t al-hayawan’, a 13th century Arab translation of part of Aristotle’s writings on natural history. The original drawings, by Aristotle published in one additional volume Anatomai, are now lost. Photo: © The British Library Board (Or. 2784 f.87v).
Besides Aristotle’s profound love for knowledge itself, his interest in marine biology can be linked to his close relationship with the sea. He was familiar with the great variety of fish and marine invertebrates harvested and exploited by the coastal Aegean communities, as demonstrated by archaeological records.
Aristotle’s marine research
Aristotle carried out most of his marine research during his stay on Lesbos Island. There, with the help of the local fishermen, he had the opportunity to study the existing marine biodiversity, access to material for his anatomical work and could observe, first hand, aspects of the biology & behavior of marine animals.
Aristotle’s knowledge of marine organisms is remarkable, particularly when we consider the complete lack of basic research equipment, such as microscopes or scuba gear.
A 12th century transcript of Aristotle’s Historia animalium, found in Constantinople (currently Istanbul) and at present part of the collection of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Italy. Photo: Sailko / Wiki Commons.
Aristotle’s marine research attracts the interest of modern marine scientists
The results of his invaluable contribution to the knowledge of biology and biodiversity is that he has recently attracted the interest of modern marine scientists. These scientists aim to understand the roots of marine biological study, knowledge which can provide baseline information for comparisons between Ancient and current condition. Their expertise can also provide input to other branches of science, including historians, archaeologists, and philosophers.