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1 - Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2009

John C. Avise
Affiliation:
University of California, Irvine
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Summary

Long before the concept of biological evolution entered the human mind, people classified diverse forms of life into recognizable categories. Some of the earliest spoken words undoubtedly were names ascribed by primitive peoples to particular types of plants and animals important in their daily lives. Theorists and professional biologists categorized organisms too. For example, in the third century BC the Greek philosopher Aristotle grouped species according to morphological conditions (such as winged versus wingless, and two-legged versus four-legged) that he supposed had been constant since the time of Creation. About twenty centuries later, Carolus Linnaeus – a Swedish botanist and the acknowledged father of biological taxonomy – classified organisms into nested groups (such as genera within families within orders within classes), but still he had no inkling that varied depths of evolutionary kinship might underlie these hierarchical resemblances.

More time would pass before scientists finally began to understand that life evolves, and that historical descent from shared ancestors was responsible for many of the morphological similarities among living (and fossil) species. This epiphany is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Charles Darwin (CD), but several scientists before him in the late 1700s and early 1800s, including Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Comte de Buffon, and CD's own grandfather Erasmus Darwin, were well aware of the reality of evolutionary descent with modification. What CD “merely” added was the elucidation of natural selection as the primary driving agent of adaptive evolution (this achievement was, of course, one of the most influential in the history of science).

Type
Chapter
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Evolutionary Pathways in Nature
A Phylogenetic Approach
, pp. 1 - 18
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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  • Introduction
  • John C. Avise, University of California, Irvine
  • Book: Evolutionary Pathways in Nature
  • Online publication: 18 December 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511606939.002
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  • Introduction
  • John C. Avise, University of California, Irvine
  • Book: Evolutionary Pathways in Nature
  • Online publication: 18 December 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511606939.002
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • John C. Avise, University of California, Irvine
  • Book: Evolutionary Pathways in Nature
  • Online publication: 18 December 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511606939.002
Available formats
×