In 1559, species referred to different kinds of wine. English cleric Edward Topsell first used the term biologically in the 1608 book The Historie of Serpents. By 1700, species of plants and animals was in common use.
Distinct species were easy to spot when life forms were largely thought to be unchanging kinds of creatures created by the Almighty. God-fearing naturalists carried the banner to describe species, though explaining how they came to be was a given: they were the products of divine creation.
Getting past creationist bias took time. German evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr broke the mold with his 1942 book Systematics and the Origin of Species, redefining species not as just a morphologically similar population, but as a group that exclusively bred among themselves.