Pigeons: Darwin’s Unappreciated Avian Assistant

By Michael Wheelock, @MSWheelock The Fallacy of Finches If I contribute as much to science as the pigeon has, I’ll consider my career an overwhelming success. Why? Because pigeons were instrumental in helping Darwin argue for evolution by natural selection. “Wait a second Mike,” you might be thinking, “don’t you mean finches?” Absolutely not, but I know where you’re coming from. In middle school, I was taught that Darwin encountered finches (pictured below) while island hopping in the Galapagos, a series of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador. Source: http://beacon-center.org, reprint from Darwin’s Journal of Researches Darwin noticed that on each island, the shape and size of finch beaks correlated with their available food sources. For example, short and stout beaks were well suited for eating seeds from the ground, whereas long, pointed beaks were ideal for eating fruits. This led him to speculate that all of the finches were derived from a single species that had traveled from mainland South America via wind, and adapted differently on each island over time. Ultimately, this inspired him to propose the idea of evolution by natural selection in his book On the Origin of Species, published in 1860. Unfortunately,

Notes in the Margin: Charles Darwin

By Carol Feltes Happy Birthday Charles Darwin! Celebrate with “a little gem of a book:”  There have been so many books written about Charles Darwin, what should you recommend as an introduction to history’s most celebrated biologist? Here is the answer, Tim Berra’s Charles Darwin: The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man. Not only is it well populated with relevant, interesting, and appealing illustrations, it is succinct while covering everything important, and it is eminently readable. Dr. Berra, ichthyologist, ecologist, and Emeritus Professor of The Ohio State University, has spent a life time studying evolution in the guise of his fishes as well as studying the great man and his life. Dr. Berra is a noted speaker on Darwin, and this book is a result of his experience developing and perfecting his lecture series. Now retired from teaching, Dr. Berra is delving even deeper into the Darwin mystique. He has a new book coming from Oxford University Press in July, 2013: Charles Darwin and his children: His other legacy.

Creativity is Cool (Happy Birthday Charles Darwin)

By Emily Jane Dennis,@emilyjanedennis Creativity is cool. Today is Darwin’s birthday. Instead of talking about his life or how he made everything in biology make sense, I want to talk about two of his drawings. Darwin’s first (left, 1837) and final (right, 1859) evolutionary trees These two drawings, separated by 22 years, are a perfect illustration of the creative process in scientific thought. On the left is the first ever evolutionary tree, and on the right is Darwin’s final tree from On the Origin of Species.When he sketched out this first tree, Darwin had already spent years coming up with and expanding on his idea of transmutation (what we call evolution). I think about this drawing as a proof, a way to visually evaluate what he had been mulling over for so many years. He used this figure to take a bunch of independent thoughts and pull them together to address one big question: how do the species we see today relate to species that existed in the distant past? I like to believe that the “I think” above Darwin’s first tree drawing is a glimpse into his inner-critic. It was written by that doubting voice inside his head, urging him to find