BOOK: Origins of Darwin’s Evolution: Solving the Species Puzzle Through Time and Space

A few years ago biologist J. David Archibald wrote a book about trees of life, Aristotle’s Ladder, Darwin’s Tree: The Evolution of Visual Metaphors for Biological Order. His newest book is a detailed look at the often downplayed role of geographical distribution (or biogeography) in the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution. I look forward to this read, as an undergraduate paper I wrote dealt with an aspect of this topic (and was the origin of this blog’s name).


J. David Archibald, Origins of Darwin’s Evolution: Solving the Species Puzzle Through Time and Space (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 208 pp.

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Publisher’s description Historical biogeography—the study of the history of species through both time and place—first convinced Charles Darwin of evolution. This field was so important to Darwin’s initial theories and line of thinking that he said as much in the very first paragraph of On the Origin of Species (1859) and later in his autobiography. His methods included collecting mammalian fossils in South America clearly related to living forms, tracing the geographical distributions of living species across South America, and sampling peculiar fauna of the geologically young Galápagos Archipelago that showed evident affinities to South American forms. Over the years, Darwin collected other evidence in support of evolution, but his historical biogeographical arguments remained paramount, so much so that he devotes three full chapters to this topic in On the Origin of Species. Discussions of Darwin’s landmark book too often give scant attention to this wealth of evidence, and we still do not fully appreciate its significance in Darwin’s thinking. In Origins of Darwin’s Evolution, J. David Archibald explores this lapse, showing how Darwin first came to the conclusion that, instead of various centers of creation, species had evolved in different regions throughout the world. He also shows that Darwin’s other early passion—geology—proved a more elusive corroboration of evolution. On the Origin of Species has only one chapter dedicated to the rock and fossil record, as it then appeared too incomplete for Darwin’s evidentiary standards. Carefully retracing Darwin’s gathering of evidence and the evolution of his thinking, Origins of Darwin’s Evolution achieves a new understanding of how Darwin crafted his transformative theory.

ARTICLE: “Plants that Remind Me of Home”: Collecting, Plant Geography, and a Forgotten Expedition in the Darwinian Revolution

A new article in the Journal of the History of Biology:

“Plants that Remind Me of Home”: Collecting, Plant Geography, and a Forgotten Expedition in the Darwinian Revolution

Kuang-chi Hung

Abstract In 1859, Harvard botanist Asa Gray (1810–1888) published an essay of what he called “the abstract of Japan botany.” In it, he applied Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory to explain why strong similarities could be found between the flora of Japan and that of eastern North America, which provoked his famous debate with Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) and initiated Gray’s efforts to secure a place for Darwinian biology in the American sciences. Notably, although the Gray–Agassiz debate has become one of the most thoroughly studied scientific debates, historians of science remain unable to answer one critical question: How was Gray able to acquire specimens from Japan? Making use of previously unknown archival materials, this article scrutinizes the institutional, instrumental, financial, and military settings that enabled Gray’s collector, Charles Wright (1811–1885), to travel to Japan, as well as examine Wright’s collecting practices in Japan. I argue that it is necessary to examine Gray’s diagnosis of Japan’s flora and the subsequent debate about it from the viewpoint of field sciences. The field-centered approach not only unveils an array of historical significances that have been overshadowed by the analytical framework of the Darwinian revolution and the reception of Darwinism, but also places a seemingly domestic incident in a transnational context.

BOOK: Island Life by Alfred Russel Wallace

Released this year as a new edition for the centenary of Wallace’s death:

Alfred Russel Wallace, Island Life: Or, the Phenomena and Causes of Insular Faunas and Floras, Including a Revision and Attempted Solution of the Problem of Geological Climates (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 608 pp.

Alfred Russel Wallace is best known as the codiscoverer, with Charles Darwin, of natural selection, but he was also history’s foremost tropical naturalist and the father of biogeography, the modern study of the geographical basis of biological diversity. Island Life has long been considered one of his most important works. In it he extends studies on the influence of the glacial epochs on organismal distribution patterns and the characteristics of island biogeography, a topic as vibrant and actively studied today as it was in 1880. The book includes history’s first theory of continental glaciation based on a combination of geographical and astronomical causes, a discussion of island classification, and a survey of worldwide island faunas and floras.

The year 2013 will mark the centennial of Wallace’s death and will see a host of symposia and reflections on Wallace’s contributions to evolution and natural history. This reissue of the first edition of Island Life, with a foreword by David Quammen and an extensive commentary by Lawrence R. Heaney, who has spent over three decades studying island biogeography in Southeast Asia, makes this essential and foundational reference available and accessible once again.

ARTICLE: “Evolution and Biogeography: Leading Students in Darwin’s and Wallace’s Footsteps”

The following article is from the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach:

Evolution and Biogeography: Leading Students in Darwin’s and Wallace’s Footsteps

Joshua Rosenau

Abstract Exploring life’s diversity and geography’s effect on it was central to Darwin and Wallace’s parallel discoveries of evolution. Those discoveries required the two to overcome their own misconceptions about species and biology. By helping students to see the world through the eyes of explorers and placing life’s diversity into a geographic context, teachers can help students overcome those same barriers to the acceptance of evolution and deepen students’ appreciation of biodiversity.

Darwin on Galapagos (1880)

Bake a Cake for Darwin 2011

A model of the species found in the Galapagos (at left) and South America (not to scale). Entry by the Estes Grant family for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum's Bake a Cake for Darwin 2011

A new document just posted at The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online contains a previously unpublished remark on Darwin’s feelings about the Galapagos Islands. It comes from notes Darwin took while reading Alfred Russel Wallace’s Island Life: or, The phenomena and causes of insular faunas and floras, including a revision and attempted solution of the problem of geological climates (London: Macmillan & Co., 1880):

Galapagos. — I regret that you have not discussed plants. Perhaps I overvalue these Islds for how they did interest me & how they have influenced my life, as as one main element of my attending to origin of species.

You see that I have gone on writing as I read, & on almost next page there comes discussion of Galapagos flora!

John van Wyhe writes that “[a]s in his other descriptions of the Galapagos, however, Darwin here too refers to them not as the sole influence, but one of a number of the most important influences that first convinced him that species must evolve.”

Darwin Online now has a Facebook page, and I sure do hope you’ll go like it!

“Captured by C. Darwin, Esq”

Darwin's Room, Christ's College, University of Cambridge

Darwin's Room, Christ's College, University of Cambridge

Darwin, from his autobiography, on beetles:

But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one. [MB: for this passage using the names of the species he lost, go here]

I was very successful in collecting and invented two new methods; I employed a labourer to scrape during the winter, moss off old trees and place [it] in a large bag, and likewise to collect the rubbish at the bottom of the barges in which reeds are brought from the fens, and thus I got some very rare species. No poet ever felt more delight at seeing his first poem published than I did at seeing in Stephen’s Illustrations of British Insects the magic words, “captured by C. Darwin, Esq.” I was introduced to entomology by my second cousin, W. Darwin Fox, a clever and most pleasant man, who was then at Christ’s College, and with whom I became extremely intimate. Afterwards I became well acquainted with and went out collecting, with Albert Way of Trinity, who in after years became a well-known archæologist; also with H. Thompson, of the same College, afterwards a leading agriculturist, chairman of a great Railway, and Member of Parliament. It seems therefore that a taste for collecting beetles is some indication of future success in life!

I am surprised what an indelible impression many of the beetles which I caught at Cambridge have left on my mind. I can remember the exact appearance of certain posts, old trees and banks where I made a good capture. The pretty Panagæus crux-major was a treasure in those days, and here at Down I saw a beetle running across a walk, and on picking it up instantly perceived that it differed slightly from P. crux-major, and it turned out to be P. quadripunctatus, which is only a variety or closely allied species, differing from it very slightly in outline. I had never seen in those old days Licinus alive, which to an uneducated eye hardly differs from many other black Carabidous beetles; but my sons found here a specimen and I instantly recognised that it was new to me; yet I had not looked at a British beetle for the last twenty years.

The words “captured by C. Darwin, Esq.” did not really appear as such, for Darwin was probably summarizing his many mentions in Stephen’s work. Much information about Darwin and his early beetle-collecting is available at Darwin Online, including the 1987 monograph “Darwin’s insects: Charles Darwin’s entomological notes, with an introduction and comments by Kenneth G. V. Smith.”

Beetles, Finches and Barnacles, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

Beetles, Finches and Barnacles, University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge

The above passage reflects Darwin’s passion for insects, and for the thrill of discovery – outside, in nature. Following his time at Cambridge was of course his time on and off HMS Beagle, followed by work in London to organize and research his collections from the voyage. Once he got heavy into his transmutation ideas, Darwin focused on collecting facts and writing, writing, writing in notebooks. In 1846, he turned to a study of barnacles, for several reasons: he felt he needed to cement his status as a naturalist, and he felt that a taxonimc study of a group of marine invertebrates would give insight to his developing transmutation theory. He thought the study would take him a year. Barnacles became such a part of not only Darwin’s life, but his family’s as well that, according to Darwin’s son Francis, one of the children once inquired of a friend, about his father, when visiting their home, “Then where does he do his barnacles?” Darwin expressed in letters to his botanist friend Joseph Dalton Hooker that he saw no end to this work, “but do not flatter yourself that I shall not yet live, to finish the Barnacles & then make a fool of myself on the subject of Species.” In the end, the barnacle work took him eight years, and produced 4 volumes, which resulting in his being awarded the Copley Medal from the Royal Society. Done with barnacles, Darwin was surely tired of sitting at a table peering through a microscope. He reflected in his autobiography:

My work on the Cirripedia possesses, I think, considerable value, as besides describing several new and remarkable forms, I made out the homologies of the various parts—I discovered the cementing apparatus, though I blundered dreadfully about the cement glands—and lastly I proved the existence in certain genera of minute males complemental to and parasitic on the hermaphrodites. This latter discovery has at last been fully confirmed; though at one time a German writer was pleased to attribute the whole account to my fertile imagination. The Cirripedes form a highly varying and difficult group of species to class; and my work was of considerable use to me, when I had to discuss in the Origin of Species the principles of a natural classification. Nevertheless, I doubt whether the work was worth the consumption of so much time.

Darwin then in September 1854 moved on “to arranging my huge pile of notes, to observing, and experimenting, in relation to the transmutation of species.” One such series of experiments were on the germination ability of various seeds after their immersion of saltwater, for Darwin desired to know how plants could disperse across oceans to islands. Like the barnacles, this work was also crucial for On the Origin of Species, in the chapters on geographical distribution. Studying seeds in 1855, however, was no more exciting for Darwin than barnacles. He complained in a letter to his cousin Fox: “Seeds will sink in salt-water – all of nature is perverse & will not do as I wish it, & just at present I wish I had the old Barnacles to work at & nothing new.” To Hooker he called them “horrid seeds” and “ungrateful rascals.” Darwin tired of the whole process. “Thanks, also, for your little note with all the terrible wishes about the seeds,” he wrote to a skeptical Hooker, “in which I almost join for I begin to think they are immortal & that the seed job will be another Barnacle job.” Again, Darwin’s work became a family affair, for the children asked their father if he “should beat Dr. Hooker?!!”

Darwin worked tirelessly in his home outside of London. Down House became a “country house” laboratory for his scientific endeavors, and he utilized many areas of the house and its grounds for his experiments. Yet while he worked away on his “one long argument,” all he really wanted to do was get outside. To the entomologist John Lubbock, also Darwin’s neighbor, he wrote in 1854:

I do not know whether you care about Beetles, but for the chance I send this in a Bottle, which, I never remember having seen, though it is excessively rash to speak from a 26 year old remembrance. Whenever we meet you can tell me whether you know it.—

… I feel like an old war-horse at the sound of the trumpet, when I read about the capturing of rare beetles— is not this a magnanimous simile for a decayed entomologist. It really almost makes me long to begin collecting again.

Darwin’s move to Downe marked an event in his life that had lasting influence. This transition in physical location mirrors the transition, although in an opposite direction, of his work from stationary barnacles to mobile seeds. Darwin biographers Adrian Desmond and James Moore suggested in Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (1992, p. 232) that thinking about transoceanic dispersal in the seed experiments allowed a solitary and confined Darwin to travel once more. “Thinking about blue seas took him back to the voyage,” they wrote. “During those years island-hopping himself, he would have given his right arm to be home. Now he was dreaming himself back to the sea again.” We return to Carson’s passage about dispersal in The Sea Around Us, and we can envision Darwin imaging himself as one of those plants “drifting on the currents” or an animal “rafting in on logs.” It seems daydreams sailing upon seeds were not enough to satiate a shut-in naturalist.

Caricature of Darwin by fellow beetle collecter Albert Way (from the Darwin Correspondence Project website: By permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library. Copyright CUL)

Darwin continued to reminisce about beetle-collecting. To Charles Lyell’s sister-in-law, Katharine, Darwin wrote in 1856: “With respect to giving your children a taste for Natural History, I will venture one remark, viz that giving them specimens, in my opinion, would tend to destroy such taste. Youngsters must be themselves collectors to acquire a taste; & if I had a collection of English Lepidoptera, I would be systematically most miserly & not give my Boys half-a-dozen butterflies in the year. Your eldest Boy has the brow of an observer, if there be the least truth in phrenology.” If he could not go back to collecting, he surely encouraged others to. In 1858, he shared with Fox, “I am reminded of old days by my third Boy having just begun collecting Beetles, & he caught the other day Brachinus crepitans of immotal Whittlesea-mere memory.— My blood boiled with old ardour, when he caught a Licinus,—a prize unknown to me.” To his caricaturist Way, in 1860: “It is a very long time since we met.— Eheu Eheu, the old Crux Major days are long past. I sincerely hope that you are well in health.” And finally, in 1862 Darwin wrote to Fox: “About two years ago I stumbled at Down on a Panagæus crux major: how it brought back to my mind Cambridge days! You did me a great service in making me an entomologist: I really hardly know anything in this life that I have more enjoyed that our beetle-hunting expeditions; Prince Albert told Lyell, that he looked back with more pleasure to collecting insects, than he had ever found in stag-shooting.”

Texas Trip Day 2

So happy that my son is curious and willing to pick things up!

Small Dispersal Event

The Darwin Correspondence Project’s “Darwin and Gender” project has a Twitter feed: @DarwinWomen, “Charles Darwin’s women correspondents speak out!”

BBC News: Charles Darwin’s ecological experiment on Ascension isle

Science, Reason and Critical Reasoning: Modern Science Map (I’m sure there’s much that could be said about the way this is set up, but I’m just going to enjoy the awesomeness of it and not try and find any mistakes, misses, etc.).

Guardian science blogs (via Noticing/Science)

Four Nails in Darwin’s Coffin, oh my!

Chicago Darwin conference videos…

… have been made available here. The following are history and philosophy-specific, video links at the aforementioned link.

Ronald Numbers (University of Wisconsin): Anti-Evolutionism in America: Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design

Pietro Corsi (Oxford): Is History Useful to Darwin Studies? Reflections at the End of a Year of Celebrations

Janet Browne (Harvard): Looking at Darwin: Making a Celebrity through Portaits and Images

Robert J. Richards (University of Chicago): Darwin’s Biology of Intelligent Design

John Hedley Brooke (Oxford): ‘God knows what the public will think’: Darwin and the Religious Response to the Origin of Species

Daniel Dennett (Tufts University): Darwin’s ‘Strange Inversion of Reasoning’: Confronting the Counterintuitive

Philip Kitcher (Columbia University): The Importance of Darwin for Philosophy

Elliott Sober (University of Wisconsin): Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards?

Lynn Nyhart (University of Wisconsin): Geographic Isolation from Wagner to Mayr

Richard Burkhardt (University of Illinois): Animal Behavior in Evolutionary Perspective: Two Centuries of Inquiry

Jane Maienschein (Arizona State University): Embryos and Evolution: A History of Courting and Separation

Michael Ruse (Florida State University): Is Darwinism Past Its ‘Sell-by’ Date? The Challenge of Evo-Devo

BOOK: Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

Darwin (Darwin College Lectures)

In 2009, Darwin College at the University of Cambridge held a lecture series on Darwin. The lectures are accessible online (why so many ways to find these lectures?). The eight lectures are now available as a book in Darwin (Darwin College Lectures):

Charles Darwin can easily be considered one of the most influential scholars of his time. His thoughts, ideas, research and writings have had a far reaching impact and influence on modern thought in the arts, on society, and in science. With contributions from leading scholars, this collection of essays explores how Darwin’s work grew out of the ideas of his time, and how its influence spread to contemporary thinking about creationism, the limits of human evolution and the diversification of living species and their conservation. A full account of the legacy of Darwin in contemporary scholarship and thought. With contributions from Janet Browne, Jim Secord, Rebecca Stott, Paul Seabright, Steve Jones, Sean Carroll, Craig Moritz and John Dupré. This book derives from a highly successful series of public lectures, revised and illustrated for publication under the editorship of Professor William Brown and Professor Andrew Fabian of the University of Cambridge.

A multi-disciplinary overview of the influence of the legacy of Charles Darwin, with contributions from the history of science, economics, philosophy and English literature as well as the biological sciences, appealing to a number of interests • Contributors are internationally-famed leading authorities from their fields, providing the most current research findings • The authors write for the general reader from the standpoint of the leading researcher, making it thoroughly accessible to the non-specialist reader


1. Darwin’s intellectual development: biography, history, and commemoration, Janet Browne
2. Global Darwin, James A. Secord
3. Darwin in the literary world, Rebecca Stott
4. Darwin and human society, Paul Seabright
5. The evolution of utopia, Steve Jones
6. The making of the fittest: the DNA record of evolution, Sean B. Carroll
7. Evolutionary biogeography and conservation on a rapidly changing planet: building on Darwin’s vision, Craig Moritz and Ana Carolina Carnaval
8. Postgenomic Darwinism, John Dupré

This will be published in August.

Darwin College, University of Cambridge

Darwin College, University of Cambridge

ARTICLE: Four Darwinian themes on the origin, evolution and preservation of island life

In the Journal of Biogeography:

Four Darwinian themes on the origin, evolution and preservation of island life

Mark V. Lomolino

Abstract Charles Darwin’s observations and insights continue to inspire nearly all scientists who are captivated by both the marvels and the perils of island life. Here I feature four themes inspired by Darwin’s singular insights: themes that may continue to provide valuable lessons for understanding the ecological and evolutionary development of insular biotas, and for conserving the natural character and evolutionary potential of all species restricted to isolated ecosystems (natural or anthropogenic).

Also in the Journal of Biogeography:

Darwin’s Galapagos gourd: providing new insights 175 years after his visit

Patrizia Sebastian, Hanno Schaefer and Susanne S. Renner

Abstract The year 2010 marks the 175th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands. A recent paper by J. C. Briggs, ‘Darwin’s biogeography’ (Journal of Biogeography, 2009, 36, 1011–1017), summarizes Darwin’s contributions to the field of biogeography, stressing the importance of his natural history specimens. Here, we illustrate how a plant collected by Darwin during his visit to Floreana and not collected since can provide insights into dispersal to oceanic islands as well as extinction of island plants, based on ancient DNA from Darwin’s herbarium specimen.

Lumpers and Splitters: Darwin, Hooker, and the Search for Order

From the December 11, 2009 issue of Science:

Lumpers and Splitters: Darwin, Hooker, and the Search for Order

Jim Endersby

Classification was a key practice of the natural history sciences in the early 19th century, but leading taxonomists disagreed over basic matters, such as how many species the British flora contained. In this arena, the impact of Charles Darwin’s ideas was surprisingly limited. For taxonomists like Darwin’s friend, Joseph Dalton Hooker, the priority was to establish a reputation as a philosophical naturalist, and to do so Hooker embarked on a survey of global vegetation patterns. He believed that taxonomic “splitters” hindered his ambition to create natural laws for botany (and hence establish it as a prestigious science) by generating a multitude of redundant synonyms for every plant variety. Despite the fact that Darwin’s ideas apparently promised a justification for splitting, they also offered a philosophical justification for Hooker’s taxonomic practice, and so he enthusiastically championed his friend.

Youngsters dredge Darwin’s pond

From the News Shopper (UK, 5 Dec. 2009):

CUDHAM: Youngsters dredge Darwin's pond

Rose Garnson, 6, with fellow pupils

CUDHAM: Youngsters dredge Darwin’s Pond

YOUNGSTERS spent the day replicating Charles Darwin’s experiments to mark 150 years since the scientist published his most famous work.

Pupils at Cudham Primary School collected mud samples from the same pond used by Darwin which still exists in their school grounds.

The samples were then taken back to the classroom to see if plants can grow from seeds in the pond mud.

A spokesman for Bromley Council’s world heritage team said: “Cudham Primary School will be linking up with schools in the Galapagos who are also investigating and comparing the observations and experiments that Darwin carried out in their local area.”

Youngsters also visited Down House in Downe to mark 150 years since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

A few new Darwin articles

In Nature:

“Global Darwin: Revolutionary road”

James Pusey

Abstract In China, under the threat of Western imperialism, interpretations of Darwin’s ideas paved the way for Marx, Lenin and Mao, argues James Pusey in the third in our series on reactions to evolutionary theory.

[Global Darwin is a series in Nature, see this post for the first two entries]

In the Journal of the History of Biology:

“Darwin’s Sublime”: The Contest Between Reason and Imagination in On the Origin of Species”

Benjamin Sylvester Bradley

Abstract Recent Darwin scholarship has provided grounds for recognising the Origin as a literary as well as a scientific achievement. While Darwin was an acute observer, a gifted experimentalist and indefatigable theorist, this essay argues that it was also crucial to his impact that the Origin transcended the putative divide between the scientific and the literary. Analysis of Darwin’s development as a writer between his journal-keeping on HMS Beagle and his construction of the Origin argues the latter draws on the pattern of the Romantic or Kantian sublime. The Origin repeatedly uses strategies which challenge the natural-theological appeal to the imagination in conceiving nature. Darwin’s sublime coaches the Origin’s readers into a position from which to envision nature that reduces and contains its otherwise overwhelming complexity. As such, it was Darwin’s literary achievement that enabled him to fashion a new ‘habit of looking at things in a given way’ that is the centrepiece of the scientific revolution bearing his name.

In Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A:

“Between the Beagle and the barnacle: Darwin’s microscopy, 1837-1854”

Jardine Boris

Abstract The discovery of a small collection of Darwin manuscripts at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science (University of Cambridge) has allowed a reconsideration of Darwin’s interest in and knowledge of microscopy. Concentrating on the years between his return from the Beagle voyage and the publication of the major taxonomic work on barnacles, this paper recovers a number of important aspects of Darwin’s intellectual and practical development: on returning from the Beagle voyage he acquainted himself with the work of C. G. Ehrenberg, and this informed both his private and public work; then through the 1840s Darwin transformed himself from a fascinated observer and consumer of others’ work into an expert on microscopy. I characterise this move as a piece of clever manoeuvring, and discuss more generally the kind of scientist—gentlemanly and expert—that Darwin was attempting to become.

In Endeavour:

“Savage selection: analogy and elision in On the Origin of Species

D. Graham Burnett

Abstract Darwin famously built the ground-breaking argument of On the Origin of Species out of an analogy between artificial selection (‘breeding’) and what he called ‘nature’s power of selection’ – or, more famously, ‘natural selection’. For years, historians of science have debated the origins of this analogy and philosophers of science have disputed exactly how well it works. But is Darwin’s argument really an analogy? A closer look at what the world-travelling naturalist of the Beagle has to say about selection among ‘savages’ opens a more complicated story.

In Current Biology:

“Evolutionary history of the Falklands wolf”

Graham J. Slater, Olaf Thalmann, Jennifer A. Leonard, Rena M. Schweizer, Klaus-Peter Koepfli, John P. Pollinger, Nicolas J. Rawlence, Jeremy J. Austin, Alan Cooper and Robert K. Wayne

Abstract After visiting the Falkland Islands during the voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin remarked on the surprising presence of a wolf-like canid unique to the islands. One hundred and forty years after its extinction, the evolutionary relationships of this unusual canid remain unresolved. Here, we present a phylogenetic analysis based on nuclear and mtDNA sequence data from the extinct Falklands wolf and find that its closest extant relative is the South American maned wolf. Molecular dating analyses suggest that the Falklands wolf and several extant South American canid lineages likely evolved in North America, prior to the Great American Interchange. The Falklands wolf was the sole representative of a distinct South American canid lineage that survived the end-Pleistocene extinctions on an island refuge.

Cambridge Trip #4: Darwin in the Field Conference, Pt. 2

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Walking to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences:

Tennis Court Road, University of Cambridge

Tennis Court Road, University of Cambridge

This was the second day of the Darwin in the Field conference. That means I presented my paper, and it was received well.

Presenting my paper

Presenting my paper

Some suggestions and one small critique from David Kohn, but otherwise fine. Several of the historians were surprised to find out that the bulk of my paper was written during one of my undergraduate courses. Kohn also welcomed me to the community of scholars who look at Darwin’s botanical work. All in all, compliments and best wishes for future work. There are plans to publish the papers from this conference in a volume through the Geological Society of London. So more work to be done on Darwin and his seed dispersal experiments!

After the conference (and while some participants joined David Norman for a look at Darwin’s room at Christ’s College), some of us went for lunch at Origin8. A picture afterwards:

Brian Rosen, John van Wyhe, me, David Kohn, & Alistair Sponsel

Brian Rosen, John van Wyhe, me, David Kohn, & Alistair Sponsel

My Twitter updates from the presentations:

Darwin in the Field: A. Sponsel: Darwin actually had eureka moment w/ coral reef theory in Tahiti, not west coast of S. America#darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Barton (me!): JD Hooker disagreed w/ Darwin on seed dispersal in part b/c D did experiments @ home, not Kew #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Gowan Dawson: Brits more intriqued by Megatherium vs. dinosaurs b/c of stronger association w/ morality #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Gowan Dawson: “Darwin rather minimal in my story” Love it. #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Brian Rosen: Darwin’s own exhibit on coral reef specimens to be re-displayed at NHM-London #darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: J. Hodge: it’s an anachronism to speak of Darwin and plate tectonics, further, don’t use ‘tectonics’ either#darwinfest

Darwin in the Field: Phil Stone: “Nevermind Darwin’s finches (van Wyhe: no, no, mockingbirds), it’s Darwin’s foxes” #darwinfest

Following lunch, I went back to pick up my bag from the porter’s lodge at Downing College, and made my way to the bed and breakfast I stayed at the next two nights. I looked at my Cambridge map wrong, and went more than a mile out of my way, but that allowed me to see parts of the university I otherwise would not have. Some pictures:

Sidney Street Performer, Cambridge, England

Sidney Street Performer, Cambridge, England

Punting on The River Cam, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

Punting on The River Cam, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge

Kettles Yard, Cambridge, England

Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, England

Lichen on wall along Northampton Street, University of Cambridge

Lichen on wall along Northampton Street, University of Cambridge

Another view of Kings College, University of Cambridge

Another view of King's College, University of Cambridge

Darwin Festival Fringe Programme, Grantchester Street, Cambridge, England

Darwin Festival Fringe Programme, Grantchester Street, Cambridge, England

The Granta (River Cam), Cambridge, England

The Granta (River Cam), Cambridge, England

When I got to the bed and breakfast, Richard Carter was already there.  We ventured out for some more exploring of Cambridge, which I will share in a later post.

You can view all the photos from my trip here, if you feel so inclined.

PREVIOUS: Cambridge Trip #3: Darwin in the Field ConferenceCambridge Trip #2: Finding My WayCambridge Trip #1: Traveling

BOOK REVIEW: Jim Endersby’s ‘Imperial Nature’

Imperial Nature by Jim Endersby

Imperial Nature by Jim Endersby

Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. By Jim Endersby. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. xii + 429 pp. Acknowledgments, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index,. $35.00 (cloth).

In Pamela Smith’s The Body and the Artisan, we are asked to reconsider assumptions we hold about the Scientific Revolution: that it was a radical change in the acquiring of knowledge about the natural world, and that through texts and experimentation, natural philosophers in Italy and England led the way. For Smith, however, it was within a different place and among different actors that the “Scientific Revolution” actually got its start: artisans, not natural philosophers, in the Lower countries and Germany, not Italy and England, structured their desire to know about the natural world through physical experience, not books, to claim the superiority of embodied knowledge [1]. Those figures commonly associated with the Scientific Revolution, such as Francis Bacon, took up the artisans’ epistemological methodology.

This decentering of geographic origins and deemphasizing the role of iconic figures in the history of science has recently became a new analytical tool that has turned upside down long held notions of science as a progressive and strictly Western process. In Imperial Nature, historian of science Jim Endersby asks similar questions about Victorian science. Is it strictly something pouring out of Britain to the rest of the world? Is it run only by iconic men of science? Is the nineteenth century a period that is best understood only as split into pre- and post-Darwinian? Is the primary characteristic of Victorian science the push for professionalization within different disciplines? Endersby, probably more than any other historian working today, has an abiding fondness for Joseph Dalton Hooker. An online resource about Hooker that Endersby put together testifies to this claim (, as does the many articles he has published in a variety of journals. But Endersby does more than just inform others about Hooker. Imperial Nature, based on Endersby’s Ph.D. dissertation, analyzes Hooker’s career as a nineteenth-century botanist to reconsider common yet clichéd themes in thinking about Victorian science: “the reception of Darwinism, the consequences of empire, and the emergence of a scientific profession” (3).

Important to Endersby, as the subtitle stresses, is an understanding of the practices of nineteenth-century botany, the minutiae of everyday “doing.” This structures his narrative, as each chapter focuses on a particular practice: Traveling, Collecting, Corresponding, Seeing, Classifying, Settling, Publishing, Charting, Associating, and Governing. Some chapters are more engaging than others, particularly the first five and “Charting.” According to Endersby, “a focus on practice serves to overcome a long-standing historiographical tendency to divide the factors and influences that shape science into those which are internal to science (such as objectivity and careful experimentation) and those which lie outside (e.g., political, religious, and economic factors)” (313). Looking at practice – what naturalists and collectors were doing rather than focusing on their ideas that developed – helps us to understand a complexity of issues at work.

Reading through Imperial Nature, Endersby diverts Hooker’s links to Darwin to the conclusion. The impression given is that he does not want his Hooker book, truly a labour of love, to become a Darwin book, as 2008 and 2009 have been flooded with many new works, covering many disciplines beyond science, about Darwin. “I have deliberately chosen to keep Darwin in the background,” Endersby states in the conclusion (316). Darwin’s story is well known, while those of his contemporaries, Hooker included, are not. Yet the conclusion becomes the place for Endersby to bring Darwin in and analyze Hooker’s and other Victorian naturalists’ careers in relation to the “species question.” Endersby argues that it is not the question of whether or not species evolved that was central to Victorian science (we are all familiar with the pre-/post-Darwinian, pre-/post-Origin, pre-/post-1858 markers), but the question of whether or not species were stable in nature. For Hooker, to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was not to become a supporter of transmutation (Endersby argues that natural selection hardly changed the ways naturalists did their work), but to recognize the value of natural selection as a theoretical tool to the practice of botany. Natural selection gave Hooker a way to combat those aspiring botanists who tended to claim many species of plants where Hooker saw one of a few. This tension between “lumpers” and “splitters” in botanical classification helped to shape much more than Hooker’s eventual support for Darwin (Endersby also explores debates around whether or not Hooker actually accepted Darwin’s theory).

The lumper/splitter dichotomy was best explained by the imperial context of nineteenth-century botany. Colonial botanists collected plants and sent them back to metropolitan botanists, such as Hooker. Economic botany – understanding what plants are where and how best they can be utilized as natural resources – was important to imperialism. Endersby, however, stresses that colonial botanists – such as William Colenso and Ronald Gunn – were not simply passive servants of more powerful botanists in London and at Kew Gardens specifically. Colonial botanists held some autonomy, using their rare positions as skilled collectors in far away places to further their own agendas, whether aspiring to be better botanists or better gentlemen. A constant through Hooker’s career is dealing with colonial botanists and their willingness to agree (or not) to his methods. For Hooker, the colonial botanist should simply collect and send specimens back to the center, while not speculating on theoretical or philosophical matters, such as transmutation, naming, or distribution. To further their own goals, however, colonial botanists did speculate beyond collecting. They tended to be splitters: having more local knowledge of plant varieties in a given location, colonial botanists argued for more distinct species. They wanted to emphasize the diverse floras of the regions they represented while asserting the authority of their local knowledge and in situ experience (they often found European botanical books inadequate). Metropolitan naturalists, on the other hand, minimized the number of species for several reasons. Hooker, as did other metropolitan botanists, constructed herbariums, collections of dried plant specimens ordered by hierarchies of classification and managed within specially built cabinets in drawers with folders. Managing an herbarium became a daunting task as colonial botanists sent in this and that new species of orchid or liverwort. Keeping the number of species to a minimum not only maintained a metropolitan botanist’s authority over peripheral subordinates, but helped in maintaining the physical herbarium (in itself a microcosm of the botanical world). Hooker’s broad species concept – that many species across the globe are more generally varieties of a species with a broad geographic range – also required broader collections. Arguing against splitters was, in a way, related to the demand for more publicly funded scientific positions to build public funded collections.

Colonial botanists, Endersby persuasively argues, were not passive recipients of metropolitan scientific knowledge. “The result was not a one-way flow of plants or authority from periphery to center but a complex negotiation in which each side bartered its assets according to its interests and in the process defined who was central or peripheral and why” (110). Men like Hooker, Darwin, and Huxley depended on colonial botanists. Without their collections, whether botanical or zoological, these “men of science” could hardly have accomplished their work. In turn, their work, is not something to be considered as meaning the same thing in different regions. As Endersby effectively shows, the meanings of botanical illustrations and botanical classifications (think of Bruno Latour’s “immutable mobiles”) did not necessarily transfer from one location to another and hold their intended meanings.

Endersby’s time in the archives is apparent. He uses a wealth of primary documents – letters and papers mainly – that are representative of the “centers” and “peripheries” of his story: America, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. The subsections of many chapters in the book testify to his use of primary documents as well, as they are titled using quotes taken from these documents.

Imperial Nature, a reassessment of Victorian science seen through the career of a botanist bent on heightening the status of his discipline to be among geology and astronomy by claiming it “philosophical” and not an amateur pursuit (Hooker made his living from botany), will interest historians of Victorian science, biology (whether of botany, taxonomy, or evolution specifically), biogeography, imperialism, and even those who study the role of objects in history (chapter 2, “Collecting”). This is not a biographical treatment of Hooker (see Ray Desmond’s Joseph Dalton Hooker: Traveller and Plant Collector). Endersby has made a valuable contribution to several historical disciplines, showing how telling history entrenched in –isms (colonialism, professionalism, Darwinism) is detrimental to a proper understanding of Victorian science.

1. Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

BBC Tonight – 2 New Darwin Series start

Tonight on BBC 2 are the first episodes of two new Darwin series:

Jimmy Doherty, scientist, farmer and presenter of Jimmy’s Farm, recreates some of Darwin’s groundbreaking experiments to reveal the untold story of Darwin – the ingenious experimentalist. Jimmy recreates one of Darwin’s first experiments – a simple test to see if plant seeds can survive in salt water. Darwin aimed to solve the puzzle of how the same plants were found on opposite sides of the oceans. These experiments were a crucial step in showing how plants could cross oceans and therefore explain the distribution of plants around the world. At Down House Jimmy also recreates Darwin’s experiment to demonstrate the struggle for existence between plant seedlings and their natural predators – using nothing more than a patch of turf and a handful of sticks. It was these and other experiments that helped give Darwin the confidence to first publish his seminal work On the Origin of Species in 1859 – which set out his controversial theory of evolution by natural selection.

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea 9pm (read Andrew Marr’s piece for BBC News)

In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Andrew Marr explores the impact of Darwin’s ideas on religion, politics and our understanding of the natural world. The opening programme looks at Darwin’s impact on religion and morality, and how the great debate about his ideas is still raging. For many Muslims, Jews and fundamentalist Christians his work is still regarded as dangerous heresy. Marr explores this debate about what it really means to be human. He also examines Darwin’s influence on atheism and existentialism. It becomes clear that Darwin’s ideas are as explosive today as they were 150 years ago.

I’ll be going to North Carolina in March

From an email received today:

Congratulations! Your paper has been accepted for presentation at the student conference, “Darwin’s Legacy: Evolution’s Impact on Science and Culture,” March 19-21, 2009, at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Title: “For I Have Not the Means”: Charles Darwin, Transoceanic Dispersal, and the Geography of Science

SESSION: Concurrent Session B


DATE: Friday, 20 March 2009

LOCATION: Warwick Center, UNCW (campus map at

Darwin’s Dust


Two-toned dust plumes blew northward off the coast of Libya on October 26, 2007Two-toned dust plumes blew northward off the coast of Libya on October 26, 2007

This image comes from the photography blog The Big Picture from The Boston Globe. Each week’s post contains wonderful captures around a particular topic. The week of January 14 was “Earth, observed.” The dust blowing over the Atlantic brings to mind Darwin’s 1845 paper, “An account of the FINE DUST which often falls on Vessels in the ATLANTIC OCEAN,” from the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (see this paper here on Darwin Online). Darwin writes:

On the 16th of January (1833), when the Beagle was ten miles off the N.W. end of St. Jago, some very fine dust was found adhering to the under side of the horizontal wind-vane at the mast-head; it appeared to have been filtered by the gauze from the air, as the ship lay inclined to the wind. The wind had been for twenty-four hours previously E.N.E., and hence, from the position of the ship, the dust probably came from the coast of Africa. The atmosphere was so hazy that the visible horizon was only one mile distant. During our stay of three weeks at St. Jago (to February 8th) the wind was N.E., as is always the case during this time of the year; the atmosphere was often hazy, and very fine dust was almost constantly falling, so that the astronomical instruments were roughened and a little injured. The dust collected on the Beagle was excessively fine-grained, and of a reddish brown colour; it does not effervesce with acids; it easily fuses under the blowpipe into a black or gray bead.


From the several recorded accounts it appears that the quantity of dust which falls on vessels in the open Atlantic is considerable, and that the atmosphere is often rendered quite hazy; but nearer to the African coast the quantity is still more considerable. Vessels have several times run on shore owing to the haziness of the air: and Horsburgh recommends all vessels, for this reason, to avoid the passage between the Cape Verd Archipelago and the main-land. Roussin also, during his survey, was thus much impeded. Lieut. Arlett found the water so discoloured, that the track left by his ship was visible for a long time; and he attributes this in part to the fine sand blown from the deserts, “with which everything on board soon becomes perfectly caked.”

Professor Ehrenberg has examined the dust collected by Lieut. James and myself; and he finds that it is in considerable part composed of Infusoria, including no less than sixty-seven different forms. These consist of 32 species of siliceous-shielded Polygastrica;3 of 34 forms of Phytolitharia, or the siliceous tissues of plants; and of one Polythalamia. The little packet of dust collected by myself would not have filled a quarter of a tea-spoon, yet it contains seventeen forms.

In 2007, several microbiologists published in Environmental Microbiology an article titled “Life in Darwin’s dust: intercontinental transport and survival of microbes in the nineteenth century.” The abstract

Charles Darwin, like others before him, collected aeolian dust over the Atlantic Ocean and sent it to Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg in Berlin. Ehrenberg’s collection is now housed in the Museum of Natural History and contains specimens that were gathered at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Geochemical analyses of this resource indicated that dust collected over the Atlantic in 1838 originated from the Western Sahara, while molecular-microbiological methods demonstrated the presence of many viable microbes. Older samples sent to Ehrenberg from Barbados almost two centuries ago also contained numbers of cultivable bacteria and fungi. Many diverse ascomycetes, and eubacteria were found. Scanning electron microscopy and cultivation suggested that Bacillus megaterium, a common soil bacterium, was attached to historic sand grains, and it was inoculated onto dry sand along with a non-spore-forming control, the Gram-negative soil bacterium Rhizobium sp. NGR234. On sand B. megaterium quickly developed spores, which survived for extended periods and even though the numbers of NGR234 steadily declined, they were still considerable after months of incubation. Thus, microbes that adhere to Saharan dust can live for centuries and easily survive transport across the Atlantic.

Darwin relied on finding the means of dispersal of many organisms because, if all life on earth is related through common ancestry, some organisms had to have found ways to travel to new locations (single centers of creations versus the multiple centers of creation that some naturalists, like Louis Agassiz, postulated in order to stay true to scripture). Whether floating as seeds may do, hitchhiking on the feet or in the bowels of birds, or transporting via logs or other flotsam, or even on trains and cars, life finds a way (yes, Malcolm) to new places.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Franklyn Perring (Died 11 Oct 2003; born 1 Aug 1927). English botanist and conservationist, who was was one of the most influential botanists of his generation. He made a significant contribution to conservation as the co-author (with Max Walters) of the Atlas of the British Flora (1962), one of the most important British natural history publications of the 20th century. This compilation precisely was initiated in 1954 by the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) to record the incidence of all British flowering plants. Perring was a senior member of the team of researchers. Using a map of the country in 10 km grid squares, each square was visited, and the plants there recorded. Later, he encouraged zoologists to make similar atlases of distribution for mammals, butterflies, and other life forms.

Jean Henri Fabre (Died 11 Oct 1915; born 22 Dec 1823). French entomologist and author who popularized insect natural history. He wrote ten volumes of Souvenirs entomologiques (1879-1907) in which he recorded his perceptive field observations of insect behaviour. Although his career began as a professor of physics, and in 1866 he isolated alizarin (the colouring agent in madder), his life work became the study of insects, about which he wrote in elegant prose. From his study of parasitic wasps he deduced that much of the wasp’s behaviour is inherited and not learned. Victor Hugo dubbed him “the insects’ Homer” and Edmond Rostand named him the “Virgil of insects.” Darwin cited him as “an incomparable observer.”

Today in Science History, notable botanists and entomologists died…

From Today in Science History:

Adolf Engler (Died 10 Oct 1930; born 25 Mar 1844). (Gustav Heinrich) Adolf Engler was a German botanist famous for his system of plant classification and for his expertise as a plant geographer. He emphasized the importance of geological history in the study of plant geography, and worked out an influential system of plant classification. He wrote several works on plant geography and taxonomy, and collaborated with Karl Prantl on the early volumes of Die natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien (32 vol. in 17, 1887–1909) and edited the early volumes of Das Pflanzenreich. The Engler and Prantl system of flowering plant classification was the principal one in use until the 1970s.

Sir Ferdinand von Mueller (Died 10 Oct 1896; born 30 Jun 1825). German-born Australian botanist and explorer. He migrated to Australia in 1848 for health reasons, and there became the country’s greatest 19th-century scientist. Mueller gained an international reputation as a great botanical collector and writer. His contributions covered a wide field of sciences such as geography, pharmacy, horticulture, agriculture, forestry, paleontology, and zoology. His activity as a botanist is shown by hundreds of Australian plant names which are followed by ‘F. Muell’. From 1853, he held the post as the first Government Botanist of Victoria until his death, 43 years later. He travelled widely throughout the colonies on botanical exploration, including as naturalist to the Gregory expedition to northern Australia (1855-57).

Thomas Say (Died 10 Oct 1834; born 27 Jun 1787). American self-taught naturalist often considered to be the founder of descriptive entomology in the United States. His taxonomic work was quickly recognized by European zoologists. Say was a founding member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. He was chief zoologist of Major Stephen Long’s exploring expedition to the tributaries of the Missouri River in 1819 and in 1823 for the expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi. During the 1819 expedition, Say first described the coyote, swift fox, western kingbird, band-tailed pigeon, Say’s phoebe, rock wren, lesser goldfinch, lark sparrow, lazuli bunting, and orange-crowned warbler. His important work, American Entomology, remains a classic. He also wrote on paleontology and conchology.

Pierre Lyonnet (Died 10 Oct 1789; born 22 Jul 1708). Dutch naturalist and engraver who skillfully dissected insects and made detailed illustrations of their anatomy. He also had a career as an official codebreaker. In 1738 he entered the service of the States General as an administrator of secret expenses and as a code-clerk. In his leisure he turned to natural history. He believed that nature was a cipher that could be interpreted by tracing every detail of its perfect design. He designed a simple microscope which had each lens suspended at the end of a series of ball and socket joints over a small mahogony dissecting table mounted on a post above a wooden base with small drawers containing his instruments. After preparing engravings for several books written by others, he produced his own treatises.

Today in Science History: a bunch of botanists were born or died

From Today in Science History:

George Bentham (Born 22 Sep 1800; died 10 Sep 1844). British botanist whose classification of seed plants (Spermatophyta), based on an exhaustive study of all known species, served as a foundation for modern systems of vascular plant taxonomy. Sir William Hooker, invited him to establish permanent quarters at Kew gardens, where Bentham participated in the Gardens’ definitive survey of floras of the British colonies and possessions, for which he prepared the Flora Hongkongensis (1861) and the Flora Australiensis (7 vol., 1863-78), cataloging and describing more than 7,000 species. Collaborating with Hooker’s son Sir Joseph, Bentham spent 27 years in research and examination of specimens for the work Genera Plantarum (3 vol., 1862-83), which covered 200 “orders” of 7,569 genera, and 97,200 species.

Michael Faraday (Born 22 Sep 1791; died 25 Aug 1867). English physicist and chemist whose many experiments contributed greatly to the understanding of electromagnetism. Although one of the greatest experimentalists, he was largely self-educated. Appointed by Sir Humphry Davy as his assistant at the Royal Institution, Faraday initially concentrated on analytical chemistry, and discovered benzene in 1825. His most important work was in electromagnetism, in which field he demonstrated electromagnetic rotation and discovered electromagnetic induction (the key to the development of the electric dynamo and motor). He also discovered diamagnetism and the laws of electrolysis. He published pioneering papers that led to the practical use of electricity, and he advocated the use of electric light in lighthouses.

Christian Konrad Sprengel (Born 22 Sep 1750; died 7 Apr 1816). German botanist and teacher whose studies of sex in plants led him to a general theory of fertilization which, basically, is accepted today. Although director of a school at Spandau and tutor in Berlin, he devoted himself chiefly to the study of flowering plants. Sprengel’s 1793 treatise on floral structure examines the ways that flower colors, scents, shapes, and markings work harmoniously to attract insects for pollination. A clergyman and botanist, he spent his life researching the role played by the wind and insects in the fertilization of flowers. Although Sprengel’s work was neglected by his contemporaries, Charles Darwin later praised Sprengel’s work and brought it brought to public attention.

Peter Simon Pallas (Born 22 Sep 1741; died 8 Sep 1811). German naturalist who was a pioneer in zoogeography by going beyond merely cataloging specimens with simple descriptions, but included observations of causal relationships between animals and their environment. He looked for hidden regularities in natural phenomena over an extreme range of habitats. His extensive field studies made on expeditions in Russia resulted in records of hundreds of species of animals and plants together with commentary on the interrelationships among them and their environment, and careful notes on the areas of distribution and boundaries. This work was a precursor to theories of evolution. He was first to theorise that mountain formation resulted from volcanic processes causing uplifts and receding seas.

Merritt Lyndon Fernald (Died 22 Sep 1950; born 5 Oct 1873). American botanist noted for his comprehensive study of the flora of the northeastern United States. In Feb 1891, Fernald was offered a position at the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University that would allow him to work and study part-time at Harvard. He remained at the Gray Herbarium in one capacity or another for the rest of his life, beginning as an assistant, going on to be a professor, eventually as curator of the Gray Herbarium, 1935-37, and director, 1937-1947. Fernald is known for his work on phytogeography. He combined extensive field work with his herbarium work, concentrating on the flora of eastern North America. He did much exploring in Quebec in his younger years; when older, he worked in Virginia.

Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey (Died 22 Sep 1948; born 8 Aug 1863). American ornithologist and author of popular field guides. She preceded Ludlow Griscom in calling for the use of binoculars instead of shotguns when birding. By 1885, she began to write articles focusing on protecting birds. She was horrified by the fashion trend which not only used feathers, but entire birds to decorate women’s hats. Five million birds a year were killed to supply this fashion craze. At age 26, Bailey collected and developed the series of articles she had written for the Audubon Magazine into her first book, Birds Through an Opera Glass, (1889). Altogether she published about 100 articles, mostly for ornithological magazines, and 10 books. including the Handbook of Birds of the Western United States (1902) and Birds of New Mexico (1928).

John Bartram (Died 22 Sep 1777; born 23 Mar 1699). American explorer who is also regarded as the father of American botany, a subject he self-taught from the age of ten. He made a systematic study of healing plants. In 1728, Bartram bought land beside the Schuylkill River at Kingsessing, outside Philadelphia, created Bartram’s Garden, and began likely the first experiments in hybridizing in America. (His Garden now forms part of Philadelphia’s small park system – the oldest living botanical garden in the U.S. – where many giant trees may still be seen that he planted.) He travelled widely to gather ripe seeds, roots and bulbs in proper condition for transplanting. Shipping many species to introduce in Europe developed into a business. His son William Bartram followed him as a naturalist.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Elliott Coues (Born 9 Sep 1842; died 25 Dec 1899). American army surgeon and ornithologist whose Key to North American Birds (1872) was the first work of its kind to present a taxonomic classification of birds according to an artificial key and promoted the systematic study of North American [birds]. Beginning the U.S. army as a medical cadet during the Civil War (1862), he became an assistant surgeon (1864-81). His interest in the study of birds began while a boy. He met many naturalists at the Smithsonian Institution and published his first technical paper at age 19. As his army assignments took him to various locations throughout the West, he continued studying the bird life in each new area, and found new species. He also did valuable work in mammalogy and wrote a book, Fur-Bearing Animals (1877).

Joseph Leidy (Born 9 Sep 1823; died 30 Apr 1891). American zoologist, who made significant contributions in a remarkably wide range of earth and natural science disciplines, including comparative anatomy, parasitology, and paleontology. As the Father of American Vert[e]brate Paleontology, he described not only the first relatively complete dinosaur skeleton, but the diversity of fossil finds in the American West. His knowledge of comparative anatomy enabled him to make sense of even fragmentary fossil remains. He was also a competant microscopist, scientific illustrator, and published papers in human biology and medicine. His microscopic examination of parasite cysts in cooked ham and microorganisms in housefly mouthparts enabled him to improve public heath.

William Lonsdale (Born 9 Sep 1794; died 11 Nov 1871). English geologist and paleontologist whose study of coral fossils found in Devon, suggested (1837) certain of them were intermediate between those typical of the older Silurian System (408 to 438 million years old) and those of the later Carboniferous System (286 to 360 million years old). Geologists Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick agreed. They named (1839) this new geologic system after its locale – the Devonian System. Lonsdale’s early career was as an army officer (1812-15) and later he became curator and librarian of the Geological Society of London (1829-42). He recognised that fossils showed how species changed over time, and more primitive organisms are found in lower strata. Darwin used this to support his evolution theory.

Andreas Franz Wilhelm Schimper (Died 9 Sep 1901; born 12 May 1856). German botanist whose Pflanzentogeographie (1898) was one of the first and finest mapping of the floral regions of the continents. He coined (1885) the term chloroplasts (the organelles in plant cells that conduct photosynthesis), and distinguished them from chromatophores (pigment-containing cells found in many marine animals). In 1880, he proved that starch is the source of stored energy for plants. His explorations included Florida, the West Indies, South America, and Indonesia. On the Valdivia expedition (1898) he studied the oceanic plankton of numerous oceanic islands and coastal Africa. His father, Wilhelm Philipp Schimper was an expert on mosses and whose cousin Karl Friedrich Schimper studied plant morphology.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Peter Simon Pallas (Died 8 Sep 1811; born 22 Sep 1741). German naturalist who was a pioneer in zoogeography by going beyond merely cataloging specimens with simple descriptions, but included observations of causal relationships between animals and their environment. He looked for hidden regularities in natural phenomena over an extreme range of habitats. His extensive field studies made on expeditions in Russia resulted in records of hundreds of species of animals and plants together with commentary on the interrelationships among them and their environment, and careful notes on the areas of distribution and boundaries. This work was a precursor to theories of evolution. He was first to theorise that mountain formation resulted from volcanic processes causing uplifts and receding seas.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Carl R. Woese (Born 15 Jul 1928). American microbiologist who recognized the existance of the organisms Archaea as a third domain of life, distinct from the previously recognized two domains of bacteria, and life other than bacteria. On 2 Nov 1977, his identification of methanogens, a form of life dating back some 3.5 billion years, was reported from the University of Illinois. Woese had long studied the evolutionary track of DNA and RNA. In 1976, he was approached by his colleague Ralph Wolfe, who presented a group of methane producing organisms. Woese studied their RNA and recognized their lack of the entire oligonucleotide sequences. Methanogens are found in oxygen-deficient environments, and mostly obtain their energy by reducing CO2 and oxidizing hydrogen, and releasing methane.

Gavin Maxwell (Born 15 Jul 1914; died 7 Sep 1969). Scottish naturalist and author best known for his book Ring of Bright Water (1960), the story of his life in the western Highlands of Scotland with two pet otters. In 1945, he bought the small Hebridean island of Soay, to create a shark fishery there, but his effort was undercapitalized and failed. He found the sharks elusive, difficult to land in a small boat and he underestimated the refrigeration capacity for storage. However, the experience became the source for his book Harpoon Venture (1952). His later enterprises included encouraging Eider Ducks to breed on the small island of Eilean Dudh so that the down from their nests could be harvested, and establishing a collection of wild animals indigenous to Scotland to create a private zoo.

Lee Raymond Dice (Born 15 Jul 1887; died 31 Jan 1977). American zoologist, geneticist and ecologist who introduced biotic provinces to characterize areas of continuous ecological similarity in climate, soils, and topography. He investigated geographical and ecological distribution pertaining to plants and animals in fieldwork throughout the Southwest and Mexico in the 1920s and 30s. When he found C. Hart Merriam’s idea of life zones to be inadequate for modeling distribution patterns, he developed his concept of biotic provinces. Dice demonstrated their application in his book, The Biotic Provinces of North America (1943). He is also known for his derivation of the Dice index, a similarity coefficient used to measure degree of association between biotic samples.

John Wilson (Died 15 Jul 1751; born 1696). English botanist who was the first writer that attempted a systematic arrangement of English indigenous plants in the English language, which he published in Synopsis of British Plants (1744). Wilson was self-taught in botany, and built on the method of Ray, which he had to read in Latin. Wilson preferred to write plainly, in English, recording his finds made on frequent trips into the local countryside. His systematic studies did much to bring some order and place the science on the broad scientific basis. He died at age 55, before finishing a second volume intended to contain the fungi, mosses, grasses, and trees. Wilson remains little known because his book was eclipsed by the writings of Linnæus that became popular shortly after his death.

Today in Science History

From Today in Science History:

Ernst Mayr (Born 5 Jul 1904; died 3 Feb 2005). German-born American biologist known for his work in avian taxonomy, population genetics, and evolution. In 1928, he led the first of three expeditions to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands where he studied the effects of geographic distribution among various animal species. He led development of the modern synthetic theory of evolution (the interplay of gene mutation and recombination, changes in structure and function of chromosomes, reproductive isolation and natural selection). In 1940, he proposed a definition of species that became accepted in scientific circles. He began bird watching as a young boy, and by the age of ten, he could recognize all of the local bird species by call as well as sight.

[ “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought” by Ernst Mayr, and his books here, Johnson, Kristin. “Ernst Mayer, Karl Jordan, and the History of Systematics,” History of Science 43 (2005): 1-35, Haffer, Jurgen and Franz Bairlein, “Ernst Mayr – ‘Darwin of the 20th century’,” Journal of Ornithology 145 (2004): 161-162, and Haffer, Jurgen. Ornithology, Evolution, and Philosophy: The Life and Science of Ernst Mayr 1904-2005 (Springer, 2007)]

Robert Fitzroy (Born 5 Jul 1805; died 30 Apr 1865) British naval officer, hydrographer, and meteorologist who commanded the voyage of HMS Beagle, aboard which Charles Darwin sailed around the world as the ship’s naturalist. That voyage provided Darwin with much of the material on which he based his theory of evolution. Fitzroy retired from active duty in 1850 and from 1854 devoted himself to meteorology. He devised a storm warning system that was the prototype of the daily weather forecast, invented a barometer, and published The Weather Book (1863). His death was by suicide, during a bout of depression.

A Fitzroy podcast from the Royal Society.