2013, International Year of the Wallace(?)

Image: James Marchant, Alfred Russel Wallace Letters and Reminiscences, volume 1. Cassell and Company, 1916.

Image: James Marchant, Alfred Russel Wallace Letters and Reminiscences, volume 1. Cassell and Company, 1916.

If 2009 ‘belonged’ to Charles Darwin then, if there’s any justice in the — nat­ural — world, 2013 has to be ‘owned’ by Alfred Russel Wallace.

Who? (I hope I don’t hear you ask!). Alfred Russel Wallace OM, FRS (8 January, 1823 – 7 November, 1913) was a British (actu­ally, Welsh-born, but ‘British’ is the term used by the English who want to appro­pri­ate another deserving national as their own – and with some jus­ti­fic­a­tion since Wales is – cur­rently – part of the United Kingdom…) nat­ur­al­ist, explorer, geo­grapher, anthro­po­lo­gist and bio­lo­gist. He was con­sidered the 19th century’s lead­ing expert on the geo­graph­ical dis­tri­bu­tion of animal spe­cies and is some­times called the ‘father of biogeo­graphy’. Wallace was one of the lead­ing evol­u­tion­ary thinkers of the 19th cen­tury and made many other con­tri­bu­tions to the devel­op­ment of evol­u­tion­ary the­ory besides being co-discoverer of nat­ural selection.

Aha, nat­ural selec­tion! We’ve heard of that, but surely that was solely due to one Mr Charles Darwin – English nat­ur­al­ist, etc? NO!!! Heretical British nat­ur­al­ist Alfred Russel Wallace… co-discovered nat­ural selec­tion inde­pend­ently of his more well-known con­tem­por­ary Charles Darwin. Although Darwin acknow­ledged Wallace’s con­tri­bu­tion – and this dual­ity is offi­cially recog­nised by the Linnean Society’s Darwin-Wallace Medal, awar­ded to ‘per­sons who have made major advances in evol­u­tion­ary bio­logy’ – many texts that pur­port to deal with evol­u­tion are usu­ally quite quiet on Wallace’s role in devel­op­ing this concept.

By way of try­ing to redress some of the his­toric side-lining of this emin­ent Victorian, many cel­eb­ra­tions, etc, are planned through­out this cen­ten­ary of Wallace’s death. The Wallace Fund is try­ing to raise money for a life-size statue of Wallace for the Natural History Museum in London. The Biological Journal of the Linnean Society has pro­duced an on-line ‘vir­tual issue’ devoted to papers by the great man him­self or inspired by his work. For a short bio­graphy of ARW, I sug­gest Andrew Berry’s art­icle in Biodiversity Science, which is the journal for Operation Wallacea,a net­work of aca­dem­ics from European and North American uni­ver­sit­ies, who design and imple­ment biod­iversity and con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment research pro­grammes’. For more Wallaceana, why not visit Wallace Online, ‘the first com­plete edi­tion of the writ­ings of nat­ur­al­ist and co-founder of the the­ory of evol­u­tion Alfred Russel Wallace’?


[What is it with nat­ur­al­ists and big beards? Darwin had one too. What are they hid­ing? – P. Cuttings Junior]


[As yet unknown strains of yeast! Haven’t you been read­ing my ele­ment­ary posts recently…? – P. Cuttings Senior]



Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.