Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 122, Issue 4, pp 343–359 | Cite as

A comparative analysis of the Darwin-Wallace papers and the development of the concept of natural selection

  • U. KutscheraEmail author


The classical theory of descent with modification by means of natural selection had no mother, but did have two English fathers, Charles Darwin (1809–1882) and Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913). In 1858, the Linnean Society of London published two contributions of these naturalists and acknowledged both authors as the proponents of a novel hypothesis on the driving force of organismic evolution. In the present report the most important sections of the Darwin-Wallace papers are summarized. This close reading of both publications reveals six striking differences in emphasis: Darwin and Wallace did not propose identical ideas. The species definitions of both authors are described and the further development of the concept of natural selection in wild populations is reviewed. It is shown that the contributions of A. R. Wallace, who died 90 years ago, are more significant than usually acknowledged. I conclude that natural selection’s lesser known co-discoverer should be regarded as one of the most important pioneers of evolutionary biology, whose original contributions are underestimated by most contemporary scientists.

Key words

Darwin evolution natural selection Wallace 


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© Urban & Fischer Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für BiologieUniversität KasselKasselGermany

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