28TH SEPTEMBER 2020
Dear Friend of Darwin,
On this day in 1838, in one of the great eureka moments that aren’t really supposed to happen in the history of science, Charles Darwin ‘happened to read for amusement [Rev. Thomas] Malthus on Population and […] it at once struck me [how] favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed’. The realisation filled a major gap in Darwin’s developing theory, giving him the idea for the evolutionary mechanism that he was to call Natural Selection.
To mark the anniversary of this moment of inspiration, I’ve just posted a new article: Darwin brainstorms Malthus.
Some Darwin- and evolution-related stories that caught my eye recently:
Newly discovered mass extinction event triggered the dawn of the dinosaurs
New research suggests a series of volcanic eruptions 233 million years ago fundamentally changed life on Earth.
Catastrophe drives evolution. But life resides in the pauses
Evolution is extraordinarily creative in the wake of a cataclysm. How does life keep steadily ticking over in between?
Darwin’s Earthworms (video)
A fascinating presentation on how Charles Darwin investigated earthworm intelligence, earthworm senses, and their burial of objects.
Gilbert White’s influence on Charles Darwin
To mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great clergyman-naturalist, I recently wrote a brief account of Rev. Gilbert White’s influence on Charles Darwin. (See also the book reviews below.)
Preserving Lonesome George (video)
Taxidermy in action. In 2013, the American Museum of Natural History helped to oversee the preservation of the last Galápagos Pinta Island tortoise, known as Lonesome George.
Study reveals how lichens stayed together, split up, swapped partners, and changed form over 250 million years
A team of researchers has assembled the largest family tree of lichens to date, shedding light on the ebb and flow of symbioses over vast evolutionary timescales.
Zebra stripes and their role in dazzling flies
The search for the true reason for zebras’ stripes continues.
Seven footprints may be the earliest evidence of humans on the Arabian Peninsula
Experts say discovery of 120,000-year-old prints could shed new light on spread of Homo sapiens out of Africa
How Neanderthals lost their Y chromosome
A new study suggests Homo sapiens men out-competed their brawny brethren when they mated with Neanderthal women more than 100,000 years ago.
Did we just detect life on Venus? (video)
The recent detection of a possible biomarker in the atmosphere of Venus made headlines across the world. This video explores how Venus could plausibly host life, and whether the findings really mean we’ve finally found extraterrestrial life.
For regular links like these, please like and follow the Friends of Charles Darwin Facebook page.
Some book recommendations for you:
The Natural History of Selborne
by Gilbert White
A British nature writing classic.
The Flamingo’s Smile
by Stephen Jay Gould
Reflections in natural history from the late, great essayist.
The History of Life
by Michael J Benton
A very short introduction.
Journal of Researches
Work on my Darwin book continues slowly but steadily. During my research, I recently found myself trying to convert the following sentence from a fascinating scientific paper into something vaguely resembling English:
Tetraploids can result from autopolyploidization of diploids, or crosses between hexaploids and diploids.
My recent research into bats also provided me with the perfect excuse to gatecrash episode 16 of Melissa Harrison’s delightful nature podcast, The Stubborn Light of Things to talk about echolocation and other adaptations. There’s an extended version of my audio piece at the end of this article about the fiasco I went through putting it together.
Expression of Emotions
Thanks for taking time to read this newsletter. Please feel free to forward it to any friends you think might like to subscribe.
See you next time!