Ernst Mayr

Ernst Mayr

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Encyclopedia
Ernst Walter Mayr was one of the 20th century's leading evolutionary biologists. He was also a renowned taxonomist
Taxonomy
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

, tropical explorer, ornithologist, historian of science
History of science
The history of science is the study of the historical development of human understandings of the natural world and the domains of the social sciences....

, and naturalist
Natural history
Natural history is the scientific research of plants or animals, leaning more towards observational rather than experimental methods of study, and encompasses more research published in magazines than in academic journals. Grouped among the natural sciences, natural history is the systematic study...

. His work contributed to the conceptual revolution that led to the modern evolutionary synthesis
Modern evolutionary synthesis
The modern evolutionary synthesis is a union of ideas from several biological specialties which provides a widely accepted account of evolution...

 of Mendelian
Gregor Mendel
Gregor Johann Mendel was an Austrian scientist and Augustinian friar who gained posthumous fame as the founder of the new science of genetics. Mendel demonstrated that the inheritance of certain traits in pea plants follows particular patterns, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance...

 genetics
Genetics
Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

, systematics
Systematics
Biological systematics is the study of the diversification of terrestrial life, both past and present, and the relationships among living things through time. Relationships are visualized as evolutionary trees...

, and Darwinian
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

, and to the development of the biological species concept
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

.

Neither Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 nor anyone else in his time knew the answer to the species problem
Species problem
The species problem or species concept is a mixture of difficult, related questions that often come up when biologists identify species and when they define the word "species"....

: how multiple species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 could evolve from a single common ancestor. Ernst Mayr approached the problem with a new definition for the concept of species. In his book Systematics and the Origin of Species
Systematics and the Origin of Species
Systematics and the Origin of Species from the Viewpoint of a Zoologist is a book written by zoologist and evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr that was first published in 1942...

(1942) he wrote that a species is not just a group of morphologically
Morphology (biology)
In biology, morphology is a branch of bioscience dealing with the study of the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features....

 similar individuals, but a group that can breed
Breeding in the wild
Breeding in the wild is the natural process of animal reproduction occurring in the natural habitat of a given species. This terminology is distinct from animal husbandry or breeding of species in captivity...

 only among themselves, excluding all others. When populations within a species become isolated by geography, feeding strategy, mate selection, or other means, they may start to differ from other populations through genetic drift
Genetic drift
Genetic drift or allelic drift is the change in the frequency of a gene variant in a population due to random sampling.The alleles in the offspring are a sample of those in the parents, and chance has a role in determining whether a given individual survives and reproduces...

 and natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

, and over time may evolve into new species. The most significant and rapid genetic reorganization occurs in extremely small populations that have been isolated (as on islands).

His theory of peripatric speciation
Peripatric speciation
Peripatric and peripatry are terms from biogeography, referring to organisms whose ranges are closely adjacent but do not overlap, being separated where these organisms do not occur – for example a wide river or a mountain range. Such organisms are usually closely related Peripatric and...

 (a more precise form of allopatric speciation
Allopatric speciation
Allopatric speciation or geographic speciation is speciation that occurs when biological populations of the same species become isolated due to geographical changes such as mountain building or social changes such as emigration...

 which he advanced), based on his work on birds, is still considered a leading mode of speciation
Speciation
Speciation is the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise. The biologist Orator F. Cook seems to have been the first to coin the term 'speciation' for the splitting of lineages or 'cladogenesis,' as opposed to 'anagenesis' or 'phyletic evolution' occurring within lineages...

, and was the theoretical underpinning for the theory of punctuated equilibrium
Punctuated equilibrium
Punctuated equilibrium is a theory in evolutionary biology which proposes that most species will exhibit little net evolutionary change for most of their geological history, remaining in an extended state called stasis...

, proposed by Niles Eldredge
Niles Eldredge
Niles Eldredge is an American paleontologist, who, along with Stephen Jay Gould, proposed the theory of punctuated equilibrium in 1972.-Education:...

 and Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould
Stephen Jay Gould was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science of his generation....

. Mayr is sometimes credited with inventing modern philosophy of biology
Philosophy of biology
The philosophy of biology is a subfield of philosophy of science, which deals with epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical issues in the biological and biomedical sciences...

, particularly the part related to evolutionary biology, which he distinguished from physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 due to its introduction of (natural) history into science.

Biography


Mayr was the second son of Helene Pusinelli and Dr. Otto Mayr. His father was a jurist (District Prosecuting
Attorney at Würzburg
Würzburg
Würzburg is a city in the region of Franconia which lies in the northern tip of Bavaria, Germany. Located at the Main River, it is the capital of the Regierungsbezirk Lower Franconia. The regional dialect is Franconian....

) but took an interest in natural history and took the children out on field trips. He learnt all the local birds in Würzburg from his elder brother Otto. He also had access to a natural history magazine for amateurs, Kosmos. His father died just before he was thirteen. The family then moved to Dresden
Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

 and he studied at the Staatsgymnasium (“Royal Gymnasium” until 1918) in Dresden-Neustadt and completed his high school education there. In April 1922, while still in high school, he joined the newly founded Saxony Ornithologists’ Association. Here he met Rudolf Zimmermann, who became his ornithological mentor. In in February 1923, Mayr passed his high school examination (Abitur) and his mother rewarded him with a pair of binoculars.

On March 23, 1923 on the lakes of Moritzburg
Moritzburg
Moritzburg is a municipality in the district of Meißen in Saxony, Germany, between Meißen as early centre of Saxony and the today's capital Dresden. It is most famous for its Baroque castle, Schloss Moritzburg....

, the Frauenteich, he spotted what he identified as a Red-crested Pochard
Red-crested Pochard
The Red-crested Pochard is a large diving duck.Their breeding habitat is lowland marshes and lakes in southern Europe and southern and central Asia. They are somewhat migratory, and northern birds winter further south and into north Africa.The adult male is unmistakable. It has a rounded orange...

. The species had not been seen in Saxony since 1845 and the local club argued about the identity. Raimund Schelcher (1891–1979) of the club then suggested that Mayr visit his classmate Erwin Stresemann
Erwin Stresemann
Erwin Stresemann was a German naturalist and ornithologist.Stresemann was one of the outstanding ornithologists of the 20th century...

 on his way to Greifswald, where Mayr was to begin his medical studies. After a tough interrogation, Stresemann accepted and published the sighting as authentic. Stresemann was very impressed and suggested that, between semesters, Mayr could work as a volunteer in the ornithological section of the museum. Mayr wrote about this event, "It was as if someone had given me the key to heaven." He entered the University of Greifswald in 1923 and, according to Mayr himself, "took the medical curriculum (to satisfy a family tradition)." Mayr was endlessly interested in ornithology and "chose Greifswald at the Baltic for my studies for no other reason than that...it was situated in the ornithologically most interesting area." Although he ostensibly planned to become a physician, he was "first and foremost an ornithologist." During the first semester break Stresemann gave him a test to identify treecreepers and Mayr was able to identify most of the specimens correctly. Stresemann declared that Mayr 'was a born systematist'. In 1925 Stresemann suggested that he give up his medical studies and join the Berlin Museum with the prospect of bird-collecting trips to the tropics on the condition that he completed his doctoral studies in 16 months. Mayr completed his doctorate in ornithology at the University of Berlin under Dr. Carl Zimmer, who was a full professor (Ordentlicher Professor), on June 24, 1926 at the age of 21. On July 1 he accepted the position offered to him at the Museum for a monthly salary of 330.54 Reichsmark.

At the International Zoological Congress at Budapest in 1927, Mayr was introduced by Stresemann to banker and naturalist Walter Rothschild
Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild
Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild FRS , a scion of the Rothschild family, was a British banker, politician, and zoologist.-Biography:...

, who asked him to undertake an expedition to New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

 on behalf of himself and the American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History , located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States, is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world...

 in New York. In New Guinea, Mayr collected several thousand bird skins (he named 26 new bird species during his lifetime) and, in the process also named 38 new orchid species. During his stay in New Guinea, he was invited to accompany the Whitney South Seas Expedition
Whitney South Seas Expedition
The Whitney South Seas Expedition to collect bird specimens for the American Museum of Natural History , under the initial leadership of Rollo Beck, was instigated by Dr Leonard C. Sanford and financed by Harry Payne Whitney, a thoroughbred horse-breeder and philanthropist.Beck, an expert bird...

 to the Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands is a sovereign state in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea, consisting of nearly one thousand islands. It covers a land mass of . The capital, Honiara, is located on the island of Guadalcanal...

. Also, while in New Guinea, he visited the Lutheran missionaries Otto Thiele and Christian Keyser, in the Finschhafen district; there, while in conversation with his hosts, he uncovered the discrepancies in Hermann Detzner's
Hermann Detzner
Hermann Philipp Detzner was an officer in the German colonial security force in Kamerun and German New Guinea, as well as a surveyor, an engineer, an adventurer, and a writer....

 popular book, Four Years among the Cannibals in German Guinea from 1914 to the Truce, in which Detzner claimed to have seen the interior, discovered several species of flora and fauna, while remaining only steps ahead of the Australian patrols sent to capture him.

He returned to Germany in 1930 and in 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History , located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States, is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world...

, where he played the important role of brokering and acquiring the Walter Rothschild
Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild
Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild FRS , a scion of the Rothschild family, was a British banker, politician, and zoologist.-Biography:...

 collection of bird skins, which was being sold in order to pay off a blackmailer. During his time at the museum he produced numerous publications on bird taxonomy, and in 1942 his first book, Systematics and the Origin of Species
Systematics and the Origin of Species
Systematics and the Origin of Species from the Viewpoint of a Zoologist is a book written by zoologist and evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr that was first published in 1942...

, which completed the evolutionary synthesis started by Darwin.

After Mayr was appointed at the American Museum of Natural History, he influenced American ornithological research by mentoring young birdwatchers. Mayr was surprised at the differences between American and German birding societies. He noted that the German society was "far more scientific, far more interested in life histories and breeding bird species, as well as in reports on recent literature."

Mayr organized a monthly seminar under the auspices of the Linnean Society of New York. Under the influence of J. A. Allen, Frank Chapman, and Jonathan Dwight, the society concentrated on taxonomy and later became a clearing house for bird banding and sight records.

Mayr encouraged his Linnaean Society seminar participants to take up a specific research project of their own. Under Mayr's influence one of them, Joseph Hickey, went on to write A Guide to Birdwatching (1943). Hickey remembered later, "Mayr was our age and invited on all our field trips. The heckling of this German foreigner was tremendous, but he gave tit for tat, and any modern picture of Dr E. Mayr as a very formal person does not square with my memory of the 1930s. He held his own." A group of eight young birdwatchers from The Bronx
The Bronx
The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is also known as Bronx County, the last of the 62 counties of New York State to be incorporated...

 later became the Bronx County Bird Club, led by Ludlow Griscom. "Everyone should have a problem" was the way one Bronx County Bird Club member recalled Mayr's refrain.

Mayr said of his own involvement with the local birdwatchers: "In those early years in New York when I was a stranger in a big city, it was the companionship and later friendship which I was offered in the Linnean Society that was the most important thing in my life."

Mayr also greatly influenced the American ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice
Margaret Morse Nice
Margaret Morse Nice was an American ornithologist who made an extensive study of the life history of the Song Sparrow and was author of Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow .-Early life:...

. Mayr encouraged her to correspond with European ornithologists and helped her in her landmark study on song sparrow
Song Sparrow
The Song Sparrow is a medium-sized American sparrow.Adults have brown upperparts with dark streaks on the back and are white underneath with dark streaking and a dark brown spot in the middle of the breast. They have a brown cap and a long brown rounded tail. Their face is grey with a streak...

s. Nice wrote to Joseph Grinnell
Joseph Grinnell
Joseph Grinnell was a field biologist and zoologist. He made extensive studies of the fauna of California, and is credited with introducing a method of recording precise field observations known as the Grinnell System...

 in 1932, trying to get foreign literature reviewed in the Condor: "Too many American ornithologists have despised the study of the living bird; the magazines and books that deal with the subject abound in careless statements, anthropomorphic interpretations, repetition of ancient errors, and sweeping conclusions from a pitiful array of facts. ... in Europe the study of the living bird is taken seriously. We could learn a great deal from their writing." Mayr ensured that Nice could publish her two-volume Studies in the Life History of the Song Sparrow. He found her a publisher, and her book was reviewed by Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold was an American author, scientist, ecologist, forester, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac , which has sold over two million copies...

, Joseph Grinnell, and Jean Delacour. Nice dedicated her book to "My Friend Ernst Mayr."

Mayr joined the faculty of Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 in 1953, where he also served as director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology from 1961 to 1970. He retired in 1975 as emeritus
Emeritus
Emeritus is a post-positive adjective that is used to designate a retired professor, bishop, or other professional or as a title. The female equivalent emerita is also sometimes used.-History:...

 professor of zoology
Zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

, showered with honors. Following his retirement, he went on to publish more than 200 articles, in a variety of journals—more than some reputable scientists publish in their entire careers; 14 of his 25 books were published after he was 65. Even as a centenarian
Centenarian
A centenarian is a person who is or lives beyond the age of 100 years. Because current average life expectancies across the world are less than 100, the term is invariably associated with longevity. Much rarer, a supercentenarian is a person who has lived to the age of 110 or more, something only...

, he continued to write books. On his 100th birthday, he was interviewed by Scientific American
Scientific American
Scientific American is a popular science magazine. It is notable for its long history of presenting science monthly to an educated but not necessarily scientific public, through its careful attention to the clarity of its text as well as the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics...

magazine. Mayr died on 3 February 2005 in his retirement home in Bedford, Massachusetts
Bedford, Massachusetts
Bedford is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. It is within the Greater Boston area, north-west of the city of Boston. The population of Bedford was 13,320 at the 2010 census.- History :...

 after a short illness. His wife, Margarete, died in 1990. He was survived by two daughters, five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

The awards that Mayr received include the National Medal of Science
National Medal of Science
The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and...

, the Balzan Prize
Balzan Prize
The International Balzan Prize Foundation awards four annual monetary prizes to people or organisations who have made outstanding achievements in the fields of humanities, natural sciences, culture, as well as for endeavours for peace and the brotherhood of man.-Rewards and assets:Each year the...

, the Sarton Medal
George Sarton Medal
The George Sarton Medal is the most prestigious award given by the History of Science Society. It has been awarded annually since 1955. It is awarded to an historian of science from the international community who became distinguished for "a lifetime of scholarly achievement" in the field...

 of the History of Science Society
History of Science Society
The History of Science Society is the primary professional society for the academic study of the history of science.It was founded in 1924 by George Sarton and Lawrence Joseph Henderson, primarily to support the publication of Isis, a journal of the history of science Sarton had started in 1912....

, the International Prize for Biology
International Prize for Biology
The International Prize for Biology is an annual award for significant contributions to biology. The award was created in 1985 to recognize Emperor Hirohito of Japan's long time interest in and support of the biological sciences. The selection and award of the prize is managed by the Japan Society...

, the Loye and Alden Miller Research Award
Loye and Alden Miller Research Award
The Loye and Alden Miller Research Award was established in 1993 by the Cooper Ornithological Society to recognize lifetime achievement in ornithological research...

, and the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science
Lewis Thomas Prize
The Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science, named for its first recipient, Lewis Thomas, is an annual literary prize awarded by Rockefeller University to scientists deemed to have accomplished a significant literary achievement: it "recognizes scientists as poets"...

. In 1939 he was elected a Corresponding Member of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union
Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union Fellows
The Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union may elect somebody to the position of Fellow, the highest grade of membership, for service to the RAOU and to ornithology. Fellows of the RAOU are entitled to use the letters FRAOU after their name. There is a limit to the number of Fellows that may...

. He was awarded the Linnean Society of London
Linnean Society of London
The Linnean Society of London is the world's premier society for the study and dissemination of taxonomy and natural history. It publishes a zoological journal, as well as botanical and biological journals...

's prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal
Darwin-Wallace Medal
The Darwin–Wallace Medal is a medal awarded by the Linnean Society of London for "major advances in evolutionary biology". Historically, the medals have been awarded every 50 years, beginning in 1908...

 in 1958. For his work, Animal Species and Evolution, he was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal
Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal
The Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal is awarded by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences "for meritorious work in zoology or paleontology published in a three- to five-year period." Named after Daniel Giraud Elliot, it was first awarded in 1917....

 from the National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

 in 1967. In 1995 he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences of the American Philosophical Society
American Philosophical Society
The American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743, and located in Philadelphia, Pa., is an eminent scholarly organization of international reputation, that promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications,...

.
Mayr never won a Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

, but he noted that there is no Prize for evolutionary biology and that Darwin would not have received one, either. (In fact, there is no Nobel Prize for biology.) Mayr did win a 1999 Crafoord Prize
Crafoord Prize
The Crafoord Prize is an annual science prize established in 1980 by Holger Crafoord, a Swedish industrialist, and his wife Anna-Greta Crafoord...

. It honors basic research in fields that do not qualify for Nobel Prizes and is administered by the same organization as the Nobel Prize.

Mayr was co-author of six global reviews of bird species new to science
Bird species new to science
This article describes bird species new to science since 1900. Prior to the 20th century, and indeed into its early decades, the pace of discovery of new species was fast; during this period, with numerous collecting expeditions into species-rich areas not previously visited by western...

 (listed below).

Mayr was an atheist, stating "there is nothing that supports the idea of a personal God".

Mayr's ideas


As a traditionally trained biologist with little mathematical
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 experience, Mayr was often highly critical of early mathematical approaches to evolution such as those of J.B.S. Haldane, famously calling in 1959 such approaches "beanbag genetics". He maintained that factors such as reproductive isolation
Reproductive isolation
The mechanisms of reproductive isolation or hybridization barriers are a collection of mechanisms, behaviors and physiological processes that prevent the members of two different species that cross or mate from producing offspring, or which ensure that any offspring that may be produced is not...

 had to be taken into account. In a similar fashion, Mayr was also quite critical of molecular evolution
Molecular evolution
Molecular evolution is in part a process of evolution at the scale of DNA, RNA, and proteins. Molecular evolution emerged as a scientific field in the 1960s as researchers from molecular biology, evolutionary biology and population genetics sought to understand recent discoveries on the structure...

ary studies such as those of Carl Woese
Carl Woese
Carl Richard Woese is an American microbiologist and physicist. Woese is famous for defining the Archaea in 1977 by phylogenetic taxonomy of 16S ribosomal RNA, a technique pioneered by Woese and which is now standard practice. He was also the originator of the RNA world hypothesis in 1977,...

.

In many of his writings, Mayr rejected reductionism
Reductionism
Reductionism can mean either an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can...

 in evolutionary biology, arguing that evolutionary pressures act on the whole organism, not on single genes, and that genes can have different effects depending on the other genes present. He advocated a study of the whole genome
Genome
In modern molecular biology and genetics, the genome is the entirety of an organism's hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA/RNA....

 rather than of isolated genes only. Current molecular studies in evolution and speciation indicate that although allopatric speciation
Allopatric speciation
Allopatric speciation or geographic speciation is speciation that occurs when biological populations of the same species become isolated due to geographical changes such as mountain building or social changes such as emigration...

 seems to be the norm in groups (such as in many invertebrates—especially in the insects), there are numerous cases of sympatric speciation
Sympatric speciation
Sympatric speciation is the process through which new species evolve from a single ancestral species while inhabiting the same geographic region. In evolutionary biology and biogeography, sympatric and sympatry are terms referring to organisms whose ranges overlap or are even identical, so that...

 in groups with greater mobility (such as the birds).

After articulating the biological species concept in 1942, Mayr played a central role in the species problem
Species problem
The species problem or species concept is a mixture of difficult, related questions that often come up when biologists identify species and when they define the word "species"....

 debate over what was the best species concept. He staunchly defended the biological species concept against the many definitions of "species" that others proposed.

Mayr was an outspoken defender of the scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

, and one known to sharply critique science on the edge. As a notable recent example, he criticized the search for aliens as conducted by fellow Harvard professor Paul Horowitz
Paul Horowitz
Paul Horowitz is a U.S. physicist and electrical engineer, known primarily for his work in electronics design, as well as for his role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence .-Biography:...

 as being a waste of university and student resources, for its inability to address and answer a scientific question.

Mayr rejected the idea of a gene-centered view of evolution
Gene-centered view of evolution
The gene-centered view of evolution, gene selection theory or selfish gene theory holds that evolution occurs through the differential survival of competing genes, increasing the frequency of those alleles whose phenotypic effects successfully promote their own propagation, with gene defined as...

 and starkly but politely criticized Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins
Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL , known as Richard Dawkins, is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author...

' ideas:
Mayr insisted throughout his career that the gene
Gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

 as the target of selection cannot and should not be considered a valid idea in modern evolutionary thought.

The idea that a few people have about the gene being the target of selection is completely impractical; a gene is never visible to natural selection, and in the genotype, it is always in the context with other genes, and the interaction with those other genes make a particular gene either more favorable or less favorable. In fact, Dobzhanksy, for instance, worked quite a bit on so-called lethal chromosomes which are highly successful in one combination, and lethal in another. Therefore people like Dawkins in England who still think the gene is the target of selection are evidently wrong. In the 30s and 40s, it was widely accepted that genes were the target of selection, because that was the only way they could be made accessible to mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

, but now we know that it is really the whole genotype of the individual, not the gene. Except for that slight revision, the basic Darwinian theory hasn't changed in the last 50 years.


Mayr also had reservations about evolution:
"It must be admitted, however, that it is a considerable strain on one’s credulity to assume that finely balanced systems such as certain sense organs (the eye of vertebrates, or the bird’s feather) could be improved by random mutations."

Global reviews of species new to science

  • Vuilleumier, François, Mary LeCroy & Ernst Mayr (1992) New species of birds described from 1981 to 1990 Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club
    Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club
    The Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club is an ornithological journal published by the British Ornithologists' Club . It is cited as Bull. B. O. C.Many descriptions of birds new to science have been published in the bulletin....

    Vol. 112A pp. 267–309

Other notable publications

  • 1923 "Die Kolbenente (Nyroca rufina) auf dem Durchzuge in Sachsen". Ornithologische Monatsberichte 31:135–136
  • 1923 "Der Zwergfliegenschnäpper bei Greifswald". Ornithologische Monatsberichte 31:136
  • 1926 "Die Ausbreitung des Girlitz (Serinus canaria serinus L.) Ein Beitrag zur Tiergeographie". J. für Ornithologie 74:571–671
  • 1927 "Die Schneefinken (Gattungen Montifringilla und Leucosticte)" J. für Ornithologie 75:596–619
  • 1929 with W Meise. Zeitschriftenverzeichnis des Museums für Naturkunde Mitteilungen aus dem Zoologischen Museum in Berlin 14:1–187
  • 1930 (by Ernst Hartert
    Ernst Hartert
    Ernst Johann Otto Hartert was a German ornithologist. Hartert was born in Hamburg. He was employed by Lionel Walter Rothschild as ornithological curator of his private museum at Tring from 1892 to 1929....

    ) "List of birds collected by Ernst Mayr". Ornithologische Monatsberichte 36:27–128
  • 1930 "My Dutch New Guinea Expedition". 1928. Ornithologische Monatsberichte 36:20–26
  • 1931 Die Vögel des Saruwaged und Herzoggebirges (NO Neuginea) Mitteilungen aus dem Zoologischen Museum in Berlin 17:639–723
  • 1931 "Birds collected during the Whitney South Sea Expedition. XII Notes on Halcyon chloris and some of its subspecies". American Museum Novitates no 469
  • 1932 "A tenderfoot explorer in New Guinea" Natural History 32:83–97
  • 1935 "Bernard Altum and the territory theory". Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of New York 45, 46:24–38
  • 1940 "Speciation phenomena in birds". American Naturalist 74:249–278
  • 1941 "Borders and subdivision of the Polynesian region as based on our knowledge of the distribution of birds". Proceedings of the 6th Pacific Scientific Congress 4:191–195
  • 1941 "The origin and history of the bird fauna of Polynesia". Proceedings of the 6th Pacific Scientific Congress 4:197–216
  • 1943 "A journey to the Solomons". Natural History 52:30–37,48
  • 1944 "Wallace's Line in the light of recent zoogeographics studies". Quarterly Review of Biology 19:1–14
  • 1944 "The birds of Timor and Sumba". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 83:123–194
  • 1944 "Timor and the colonization of Australia by birds". Emu 44:113–130
  • 1946 "History of the North American bird fauna" Wilson Bulletin 58:3–41
  • 1946 "The naturalist in Leidy's time and today". Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 98:271–276
  • 1947 "Ecological factors in speciation". Evolution 1:263–288
  • 1948 "The new Sanford Hall". Natural History 57:248–254
  • 1950 The role of the antennae in the mating behavior of female Drosophila. Evolution 4:149–154
  • 1951 Introduction and Conclusion. Pages 85,255–258 in The problem of land connections across the South Atlantic with special reference to the Mesozoic. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 99:79–258
  • 1951 with Dean Amadon
    Dean Amadon
    Dean Arthur Amadon was an American ornithologist and an authority on birds of prey.Amadon was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Arthur and Mary Amadon. He received a BS from Hobart College in 1934 and a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1947...

    , "A classification of recent birds". American Museum Novitates no. 1496
  • 1953 with E G Linsley and R L Usinger. Methods and Principles of Systematica Zoology. McGraw-Hill, New York.
  • 1954 "Changes in genetic environment and evolution". Pages 157–180 in Evolution as a Process (J Huxley, A C Hardy and E B Ford Eds) Allen and Unwin. London
  • 1955 "Karl Jordan's contribution to current concepts in systematics and evolution". Transactions of the Royal Entomological Society of London 107:45–66
  • 1956 with C B Rosen. "Geographic variation and hybridization in populations of Bahama snails (Cerion)". American Museum Novitates no 1806.
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  • 1959 "The emergence of evolutionary novelties". Pages 349–380 in The Evolution of Life: Evolution after Darwin, vol 1 (S. Tax, ed) University of Chicago.
  • 1959 "Darwin and the evolutionary theory in Biology". Pages 1–10 in Evolution and Anthropology: A Centennial Appraisal (B J Meggers, Ed) The Anthropological Society of Washington, Washington DC.
  • 1959 "Agassiz, Darwin, and Evolution". Harvard Library Bulletin. 13:165–194
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  • 1972 Continental drift and the history of the Australian bird fauna. Emu 72:26–28
  • 1972 Geography and ecology as faunal determinants. Pages 549–561 in Proceedings XVth International Ornithological Congress (K H Voous, Ed) E J Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands.
  • 1972 Lamarck revisited. Journal of the History of Biology. 5:55–94
  • 1974 Teleological and teleonomic: A new analysis. Boston studies in the Philosophy of Science 14:91–117
  • 1978 Tenure: A sacred cow? Science 199:1293
  • 1980 How I became a Darwinian, Pages 413–423 in The Evolutionary Synthesis (E Mayr and W Provine, Eds) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • 1980 with W B Provine, Eds. The Evolutionary Synthesis. Harvard University Press.
  • 1981 Evolutionary biology. Pages 147–162 in The Joys of Research (W. Shripshire Jr, Ed.) Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • 1984 Evolution and ethics. Pages 35–46 in Darwin, Mars and Freud: Their influence on Moral Theory (A L Caplan and B Jennings, Eds.) Plenum Press, New York.
  • 1985. Darwin's five theories of evolution. In D. Kohn, ed., The Darwinian Heritage, Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 755–772.
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  • 1988. The why and how of species. Biology and Philosophy 3:431–441
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  • 1994. with W.J. Bock. Provisional classifications v. standard avian sequences: heuristics and communication in ornithology. Ibis 136:12–18
  • 1996. What is a species, and what is not? Philosophy of Science 63 (June): 262–277.
  • 1996. The autonomy of biology: the position of biology among the sciences. Quarterly Review of Biology 71:97–106
  • 1997. The objects of selection Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94 (March): 2091–94.
  • 1999. Darwin's influence on modern thought Crafoord Prize lecture, September 23, 1999.
  • 2000. Biology in the Twenty-First Century Bioscience 50 (Oct. 2000): 895–897.
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See also

  • Philosophy of biology
    Philosophy of biology
    The philosophy of biology is a subfield of philosophy of science, which deals with epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical issues in the biological and biomedical sciences...

  • Biosemiotics
    Biosemiotics
    Biosemiotics is a growing field that studies the production, action and interpretation of signs in the biological realm...

  • Species Problem
    Species problem
    The species problem or species concept is a mixture of difficult, related questions that often come up when biologists identify species and when they define the word "species"....

  • American philosophy
    American philosophy
    American philosophy is the philosophical activity or output of Americans, both within the United States and abroad. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that while American philosophy lacks a "core of defining features, American Philosophy can nevertheless be seen as both reflecting and...

  • List of American philosophers

External links