Ernst Mayr Biography

Educator, Zoologist, Scientist(1904–2005)
Ornithologist Ernst Mayr demonstrated that the development of separate species in higher animals depends on the geographical isolation of precursor populations.

Synopsis

From 1928–1930 Ernst Mayr made expeditions which demonstrated his theory on the development of separate species in higher animals. He went to the United States in 1932. His research there resulted in his seminal redefining of the term ‘species.’ He founded the Society for the Study of Evolution in 1946, after which he became a zoology professor and museum director.

Profile

Ornithologist and evolutionist, born in Kempten, Germany. He was assistant curator of zoology at the museum of the University of Berlin (1926–32). Wishing to ‘follow in the footsteps of Darwin’, he made three expeditions to New Guinea and the Solomon Is (1928–30), which led to his demonstrating that the development of separate species in higher animals depends on the geographical isolation of precursor populations. He went to the USA to be associate curator, then curator, of the Whitney-Rothschild Collection of the American Museum of Natural History (1932–53). His research on avian paleozoology, evolution, and taxonomy resulted in his seminal redefining of the term ‘species’ to describe an interbreeding natural population reproductively isolated from other such groups (1940). He founded the Society for the Study of Evolution (1946) and was the founding editor of the journal Evolution (1949). He relocated to Harvard to become Agassiz professor of zoology (1953–75) and director of Harvard's museum of comparative zoology (1961–70). His philosophical writings on biological evolution emphasize that classification of organisms, unlike descriptive lists of inanimate objects, must be based on their existence as products of evolution. His theory of ‘peripatetic speciation’ states that new species may arise via a few organisms moving beyond their species' range and establishing a new population, which evolves due to environmental differences and inbreeding of genes. After his retirement, his writings emphasized his belief that the future of human evolution depends on education.

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