From Darwin to the New Synthesis Essay
From Darwin to the New Synthesis
Modern evolutionary biology has its roots in Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Charles Robert Darwin conceived the idea that all species on Earth have common ancestors, and that they came to be diverse in nature through the gradual process of evolution (Darwin et al. , 1996, p. 8). Darwin’s theory became widely popular in the 1930s, and the scientific community accepted his explanation as to how natural selection results in evolution. Today, Darwin’s conception of evolution is the main theoretical foundation of all life sciences, logically explaining why life on the planet is diverse.
Numerous studies have been conducted since Darwin’s time, all pointing to the fact that evolution through natural selection is the true way by which organisms become diversified. Development of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection Charles Darwin’s father originally intended for him to be a medical student, but Darwin showed little interest in the field of medicine. In 1828, he studied theology at Cambridge University and discovered his true interest in geology from the works of Adam Sedgwick, a geologist, and John Henslow, a naturalist.
During this time, Darwin did not accept the concept of evolution, although he had already been exposed to the works of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck when he was studying in Edinburgh (Darwin et al. , 1996, p. 15). In 1831, Darwin pursued his interest in geology by joining a mapping expedition aboard the HMS Beagle. Darwin read Charles Lyell’s work on uniformitarianism in the beginning of the expedition which prepared him for his eventual conception of evolution. The HMS Beagle visited the Galapagos Islands in the Eastern Pacific Ocean for five weeks.
It was in this archipelago that Darwin first understood how plants and animals evolve, though he didn’t formulate his ideas until 1837 (Wichler, 1961, p. 18). The Galapagos Islands are home to species of animals that can’t be found in other parts of the world. Darwin was amazed by the fact that the islands have birds that are slightly different from each other. He then realized that the environment in which these birds lived in must have something to do with the differences in their appearance. Darwin discovered thirteen species of finches in the islands, a bird that has only one species in mainland South America.
He noted that the birds were different in the shapes and sizes of their beaks. He also realized that the shapes of their beaks must be associated with the different diets that they have. His conclusion was that the original finch from South America reached Galapagos and was dispersed to varied environments in the archipelago (Wichler, 1961, p. 22). Over a long period of time, the birds adapted to the unique conditions of their environments. Their anatomies were modified to allow them to get the food they needed to survive and reproduce.
Evolution through Natural Selection as Conceptualized by Darwin Charles Darwin discussed his theory of natural selection in his book “On the Origin of Species” which was published in 1859. In the book, Darwin stated the observations that he made during his trip in the Galapagos Islands. From these observations, he formulated his theory that basically says that not all species in a given environment can survive (Wichler, 1961, p. 27). Those that survive have attributes that made them adapt to the environment.
Species struggle to survive, and those who are not fit for the environment that they live in will necessarily perish. In contrast, species that have the necessary features for survival will continue to exist and is equivalent to natural selection. Since species inherit traits from the generations that they follow, the features that made the naturally selected species to survive will be passed down to new generations, changing the appearance of the species in a given environment. Variation in Species through Domestication and Natural Processes
According to Darwin, variation in species can happen through domestication and natural processes. Plants and animals may have different appearances because of the different conditions of domesticated life that they are exposed to. People have been domesticating organisms since the neolithic period and this has had profound effects on the evolution of species. He pointed out as an example the domestication of pigeons. He notes that the diversity of pigeons is astonishing but there’s huge evidence pointing to the fact that all of these pigeons descended from the same ancestor (Wichler, 1961, p.
30). Humans breed pigeons intentionally and Darwin labels this practice as “artificial selection. ” The environment, in which domesticated pigeons live, also factor in the evolution of the species, such as protection from potential predators, environmental changes, and better availability of food. Variation can also happen through natural processes. Before Darwin’s analysis, species were defined merely through opinion, which resulted in the categorization of species into mere varieties.
Darwin answered this confusion by pointing out that in some genera contain many species with several varieties. This is one of the most critical ideas presented in Darwin’s book. Naturalists believed for a long time that there are differences among individuals of the same species, but the basic characteristics of species are permanent because they are permanent in God’s mind. Darwin’s analyses introduced the idea that the trivial differences between individuals are key to understanding how organisms evolve.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 8 January 2017
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