Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ernst Mayr dies

By Leslie A Pray, The Scientist, 4th February 2005. Towering figure of 20th century evolutionary biology was 100

Ernst Mayr, the eminent evolutionary biologist and arguably one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century, died Thursday morning (February 3) at the age of 100, Harvard University said today.

Mayr, known for his work on speciation and contributions to the modern evolutionary synthesis of the 1940s, died at a retirement community in Bedford, Mass., the university said. No specific cause of death was noted.

In his classic 1942 book, Systematics and the Origin of Species, Mayr championed allopatric speciation, whereby new species form only in physical isolation. It was not a new idea, as even Darwin had entertained the notion before settling on the opposite, sympatric view: that speciation does not require geographical separation. But scientists didn't embrace allopatric speciation, said University of Maryland's Kerry Shaw, until Mayr "cogently and forcefully argued" the case. "He had a major influence on our thinking about speciation as a process that occurs in geographic isolation," Shaw said.

Mayr believed that behind every good speciation biologist stood a good naturalist. "People without that naturalist experience don't have that feeling," he told The Scientist in 2003. "They don't know species."

Read the complete article at The Scientist.

Thanks to Hugh Tan

See also the obituary in The Economist - Alvin Wong.

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