, Volume 145, Issue 3, pp 161-162
Date: 15 Jun 2004

Ernst Mayr – ‘Darwin of the 20th century’

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During the mid 20th century, Ernst Mayr was one of the ‘architects’ of the synthetic theory of evolution. His contribution to the new theory was the conceptual unification of the processes of the adaptation of populations (anagenesis, phyletic evolution) and the origin of new species (cladogenesis), i.e. the explanation of the causes of biodiversity. These problems had been left open by the geneticists.

Ernst Mayr was born in Kempten, Allgäu region of Bavaria, on 5 July 1904 and grew up in Würzburg, Munich and Dresden to become a young naturalist. His father, a jurist by profession and very interested in animals and plants, showed Ernst and his two brothers mushrooms, fossils in a quarry and the common flowers. His older brother Otto taught him the names of the more common birds of the Würzburg city park, when Ernst was 9 years old. Ever since he was about 14 years old, he was studying birds in the field every free minute of his life and very soon he knew the songs and call notes of all ...