About Natural History

Evolution by Alfred Russel Wallace

Yes, in our minds Evolution = Charles Darwin. But if we lived in the 19th century things would be slightly different.

In 1855 Alfred Russel Wallace had not only been convinced of the existence of natural selection but he strongly believed that it was a driving force in the process of evolution. Like most naturalists of his time, he traveled first in Brazil – on board of the Mischief – along with entomologist Henry Bates. What is really interesting about this naturalist is that he deliberately planned his work hoping to find evidence that would support the evolutionary theory, which by the way was called “the transmutation of species” at that time.

It does seem a bit odd that A. R. Wallace is largely unknown and it was very nice to see that a team of the Natural History Museum of London is currently working on his collections of insects and other specimens, as well as on his letters and notes.

Wallace had a bigger interest for studying populations and observing more insects and plants. Maybe this is due to his fellow friends with whom he collected all of his specimens, unlike Charles Darwin who traveled by himself. The fundamental ecological and biogeographical perspectives that Wallace gave to the evolutionary theory along with his observations that led to the “discovery” of natural selection make him a fundamentally important naturalist in evolutionary sciences and maybe another person for creationists to blame…


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2 thoughts on “Evolution by Alfred Russel Wallace

  1. It’s true that Wallace gets made into a footnote that goes something like “And there was another naturalist developing the same idea, but Darwin had developed his thinking for a considerable time and was able to publish quickly when he read Wallace’s work.” Then you don’t really mention him again.
    To be honest, I don’t know much about Wallace ad his ideas and should take the time to explore it. Thank you for bringing it up.

  2. Thank you for your comment! Indeed, Wallace is considered to be the founder of biogeography (c.f. the Wallace line). In fact until the beggining of the 20th century the evolutionary theory was called “the Dawin Wallace” theory. It is very interesting to see how two different persons, coming from different backrounds, and looking for different things came to the same conclusion. Wallace focused more on ecology though on one hand, and on the distribution of species (including the center of origin of species).

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