Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 139-157

First online:

Darwinian gradualism and its limits: The development of Darwin's views on the rate and pattern of evolutionary change

  • Frank H. T. RhodesAffiliated withCornell University

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The major tenets of the recent hypothesis of punctuated equilibrium are explicit in Darwin's writing. His notes from 1837–1838 contain references to stasis and rapid change. In the first edition of the Origin (1859), Darwin described the importance of isolation of local varieties in the process of speciation. His views on the tempo of speciation were influenced by Hugh Falconer and also, perhaps, by Edward Suess (1831–1914). It is paradoxical that, although both topics were recorded in his unpublished notes of 1837–1838, the second was not explicitly and fully discussed until the fourth edition of the Origin (1866). While no wholly satisfactory explanation of this paradox suggests itself, it seems probable that Falconer's work on the persistence of fossil species of elephant helped Darwin to see the wider significance of the tempo of evolution for his general theory.