Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 132, Issue 4, pp 207–214 | Cite as

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913): the forgotten co-founder of the Neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution

  • Ulrich Kutschera
  • Uwe Hossfeld


The British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), who had to leave school aged 14 and never attended university, did extensive fieldwork, first in the Amazon River basin (1848–1852) and then in Southeast Asia (1854–1862). Based on this experience, and after reading the corresponding scientific literature, Wallace postulated that species were not created, but are modified descendants of pre-existing varieties (Sarawak Law paper, 1855). Evolution is brought about by a struggle for existence via natural selection, which results in the adaptation of those individuals in variable populations who survive and reproduce (Ternate essay, 1858). In his monograph Darwinism (1889), and in subsequent publications, Wallace extended the contents of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) into the Neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution, with reference to the work of August Weismann (1834–1914). Wallace also became the (co)-founder of biogeography, biodiversity research, astrobiology and evolutionary anthropology. Moreover, he envisioned what was later called the anthropocene (i.e., the age of human environmental destructiveness). However, since Wallace believed in atheistic spiritualism and mixed up scientific facts and supernatural speculations in some of his writings, he remains a controversial figure in the history of biology.



This project was supported by the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, Bonn, Germany (AvH-fellowship 2011/12 to U.K., Stanford, CA, USA).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of BiologyUniversity of KasselKasselGermany
  2. 2.Arbeitsgruppe BiologiedidaktikUniversität JenaJenaGermany

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