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Ten new bird species from Wallacean Islands

January 27, 2020

A lot of people don’t know that Alfred Russel Wallace was the co-formulator of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. It popped into his head one night, reportedly while he was bed-ridden with malarial fever as often happened during his years-long exploration of Indonesia, then known as The Malay Archipelago. He documents this journey in his fascinating book of the same name. He dashed off a letter to Charles Darwin, a man whom he greatly admired, briefly describing his idea.

Upon reading Wallace’s letter from Borneo, Darwin almost died on the spot (using literary license here), as for twenty years he had been diligently gathering evidence to support his nearly identical theory before presenting it to a hostile world still firmly in the grip of religious belief. He hurriedly finished his paper upon which he was working and presented it and Wallace’s letter to the Linnaean Society in July, 1858.

Hardly anyone noticed.  The big mess hit the fan the following year when Darwin published an “abstract” of his work, a modest book entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The resulting mess has still not settled. It’s interesting to note that the word “evolution” appears only once in the book, on the very last page.

Wallacea is the name given to the area between the large islands of Indonesia on the west and Australia-New Guinea and adjacent islands (Austronesia) on the east. (maps) Wallace discovered that it was a blend zone between the flora & fauna of Eurasia and Austronesia, with Eurasian life disappearing as you moved eastward and Austronesian life gradually increasing. He didn’t know why this was so, only that it was so. 160 years later, we now know the explanation to be plate tectonics. Austronesia, moving north over tens of millions of years with its biota evolving in isolation from the rest of the world, begins to crash (at geologic speed) into Asia. The Indonesian islands are raised, life forms spread east and west, and the two biomes begin to mix. This continental crashing and biological mixing continue today. That’s why Indonesia is a major volcanic and earthquake region.

Wallacea, named in honor of Wallace, is one of the few remaining land areas on Earth not fully explored, and new species are still being found there. This New York Times article describes the finding of ten new bird species, including the interestingly named Sula Mountain Leaftoiler.

The article includes this comment from Wallace, written in 1863, but even more pertinent today:

Future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.

Read the entire New York Times article. The original article was published in Science on 10 Jan 2020, and is hiding behind a paywall.
[Chuck Almdale]
Thanks to Ray Juncosa for sending me this link.

One Comment
  1. ethanski permalink
    January 28, 2020 5:59 am

    Wonderful quote by Wallace!! Gracias.

    Now all we need is a new president!

    Sent from my iPhone: No puppies or trees were harmed by this e-mail……. ….have a marvelous day!



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