Darwin's legacy in South African evolutionary biology

Johnson, S. D.
November 2009
South African Journal of Science;Nov/Dec2009, Vol. 105 Issue 11/12, p403
Academic Journal
In the two decades after publication of the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin facilitated the publication of numerous scientific papers by settler naturalists in South Africa. This helped to establish the strong tradition of natural history which has characterised evolutionary research in South African museums, herbaria and universities. Significant developments in the early 20th century included the hominid fossil discoveries of Raymond Dart, Robert Broom, and others, but there was otherwise very little South African involvement in the evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s. Evolutionary biology developed into a distinct discipline in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s when it was dominated by mammalian palaeontology and a vigorous debate around species concepts. In the post-apartheid era, the main focus of evolutionary biology has been the construction of phylogenies for African plants and animals using molecular data, and the use of these phylogenies to answer questions about taxonomic classification and trait evolution. South African biologists have also recently contributed important evidence for some of Darwin's ideas about plant-animal coevolution, sexual selection, and the role of natural selection in speciation. A bibliographic analysis shows that South African authors produce 2-3% of the world's publications in the field of evolutionary biology, which is much higher than the value of about 0.5% for publications in all sciences. With its extraordinary biodiversity and well-developed research infrastructure, South Africa is an ideal laboratory from which to advance evolutionary research.


Related Articles

  • The Fossils Say Yes. Prothero, Donald R. // Natural History;Nov2005, Vol. 114 Issue 9, p52 

    The article discusses the role of fossils in the theory of evolution by natural selection formulated by naturalist Charles Darwin. When Darwin first proposed the idea of evolution by natural selection in 1859, the fossil record offered little support for his ideas. By the late nineteenth...

  • Darwin's Untimely Burial. Gould, Stephen Jay // Natural History;Oct76, Vol. 85 Issue 8, p24 

    Illustrates the essence of Darwinian theory of natural selection. Principles of natural selection; Analogy of natural selection with artificial selection; Assessment of independent criterion of fitness in terms of differential survival; Failure of scientist Charles Darwin to undermine his...

  • DARWINISM. Teichman, Jenny // Quadrant Magazine;Mar2003, Vol. 47 Issue 3, p36 

    Presents an article on the concept and misconceptions regarding Darwinism in relation to modern physics. Difference between the tasks of biologists and physicists; Idea of evolution according to biologists of the 21st century; Elements of Darwinism; Use of the term survival of the fittest by...

  • We Are All Intellectual Descendants of Charles Darwin. Moore, Randy // American Biology Teacher (National Association of Biology Teache;Feb2009, Vol. 71 Issue 2, p70 

    The author reflects on the impact to science, especially biology, of naturalist and author Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The author considers how Darwin's ideas have undermined humanity's beliefs in their uniqueness. He also considers how Darwin's theory has been misapplied by Social...


    This paper suggests some reflections about Darwin’s work main antecedents and consequences, from de perspective of its impact on society’s world view. It developes how darwinist tought meant, in the biological knowledge area, the course from myth to logos, from a timeless...

  • Las peligrosas ideas de Darwin. Moya, Andrés // Teorema;2009, Vol. 28 Issue 2, p5 

    An introduction to the journal is presented in which the editor discusses the theories of evolution and natural selection proposed by British scientist Charles Darwin and the social, scientific, and historic implications of his ideas.

  • Maker of Heaven and Microbiology. Olding, Alan // Quadrant Magazine;Jan/Feb2000, Vol. 44 Issue 1/2, p62 

    Examines the theory of evolution of Charles Darwin. Criticisms on Darwinian theory of evolution; Discussions on the mechanism of biological evolution; Arguments on Darwin's cosmologies emphasizing the fitness of the universe for life; Analysis of the function of biological organisms.

  • Two Cheers for Darwin. Max, D. T. // American Scholar;Spring2003, Vol. 72 Issue 2, p63 

    Deals with the conceptualization of the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin. Background on a biological phenomenon that may not be addressed by the theory; Concepts that may replace Darwinism; Hindrances encountered by Darwin in promoting his theory of evolution.

  • Darwin's Impact on Paleontology. Valentine, James W. // BioScience;Jun1982, Vol. 32 Issue 6, p513 

    Darwin converted most paleontologists to evnlutiun but not to natural selection; the patterns of fossil groups were not what Darwin supposed. Therefore a number of mostly vitalistic explanations were preferred or embraced and belatedly discarded as the evolutionary synthesis developed. Today,...


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics