[PAST EVENT] Darwin, Wallace and biogeographic classification

February 24, 2012
VIMS - Watermen's Hall, McHugh Auditorium
1375 Greate Road
Gloucester Point, VA 23062Map this location
Dr. Lynne Parenti
Curator of Fishes and Research Scientist, Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of Natural History

"Darwin, Wallace and biogeographic classification"

Reception at 3:00 p.m. in the Watermen's Lobby
Seminar from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in McHugh Auditorium

Dr. Parenti received her B.S. in 1975 from SUNY Stony Brook, her Ph.D. in 1980 from the American Museum of Natural History and the City University of New York, and joined the National Museum of Natural History in 1990. Her co-authored book, Comparative Biogeography: Discovering and Classifying Biogeographical Patterns of a Dynamic Earth (2009), was a recipient of the Smithsonian Institution Secretary's Research Prize (2010) for an outstanding research publication. Dr. Parenti is past-President of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Honorary Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, Honorary Member of the Indonesian Ichthyological Society and adjunct faculty member at the George Washington University.

Mapping discrete global biogeographic regions was key to the development of a theory of biological evolution by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. In his notebooks, Darwin used biological distributions to explore geological theories. He later shifted his focus to process: explanations of the evolutionary significance of distribution patterns rather than of the patterns themselves. Dispersal from a center of origin was assumed a priori as the process of organic distribution. And, Darwin argued forcefully for the permanence of continents. Likewise, Wallace considered continental rearrangement as an evolutionary driver but abandoned that idea in favor of permanence. Wallace proposed a global, continent-based, terrestrial biogeographic classification that contradicted many known biological distribution patterns; it was convenient, but unnatural. Study of the history of species and the history of Earth became disjointed, contrary to the idea that earth and life evolved together. Identification and classification of biogeographically meaningful areas can form a framework for interpreting and understanding organic evolution. Classification of biotic areas is the goal of a comparative biogeography just as classification of taxa is the goal of systematics. It can link biology and geology at all scales. Our job--to recognize and classify natural biogeographic regions--is at a critical stage: accidental dispersal of organisms through global trade routes has ushered in what has been called ironically the "Homogocene"--an era notable for the obliteration of natural biogeographic patterns.

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