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Wallace, Alfred Russel

darwin fauna evolution ideas

(1823–1913) British naturalist: developed the theory of evolution independently of Darwin.

Wallace left school at 14 and after a period as a surveyor became a teacher at a school in Leicester, where he met the amateur naturalist H W Bates (1825–92). The two developed a passion for collecting, especially insects and butterflies, and inspired by account of his travels, they set out on a collecting expedition in tropical South America. After many adventures Wallace started to return to the UK, intending to sell specimens to finance their travels, but his ship was destroyed by fire at sea, with most of his specimens and records. Undeterred, he went to Malaya in 1854 on a similar expedition, and while there wrote up his ideas on species and evolution. Like Darwin, he was convinced that plant and animal species were not fixed, but show variation over time. He concluded that ‘we have progression and continued divergence’ of organisms and, with no knowledge that Darwin had closely similar ideas, he decided that competition and differential survival determined the path of evolution. He sent his ideas to Darwin, whose friends arranged concurrent publication in 1858; no conflict over priority occurred, the two were on the best of terms, and Wallace became by his own wish the secondary figure and a leading advocate for ‘Darwinism’.

Wallace’s career continued on rather mixed lines. He became an enthusiast for spiritualism, socialism and women’s rights, and he was also a founder of zoogeography: he recognized that there are some half-dozen regions, each with characteristic fauna, whose separation could be linked with the geology and geography of the regions. Wallace’s line is an imaginary line dividing the oriental fauna from the Australian fauna and passing among the Malayan islands.

Wallace, DeWitt - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: DeWitt Wallace, Social and Economic Impact [next] [back] Walkowitz, Judith Rosenberg (1945–) - History of Women and Sexuality

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