Joel Asaph Allen (1838-1921)

"Specimens have too often been described instead of species." (1869)

American mammalogist and ornithologist; influential neo-Lamarckian. In addition to naming many species, he carried out important studies on geographic variation and its connection with climate. Allen's recognition of variation within populations and integradation across geographic gradients helped to overturn the typological species concept current in the mid-1800s, setting out the principle that intergradating populations should be treated as subspecies instead of separate species. This idea led to the widespread adoption of trinomial names (i.e., names including subspecies) by American vertebrate zoologists, an approach Allen helped to spread by his editorship of the Auk and co-authorship of the influential 1886 American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) code of nomenclature. He established what was later called "Allen's rule," i.e., the observation that animals in cold climates had small extremities. He used this kind of evidence to argue that heritable variation was directly caused by the physical environment and was not produced by natural selection. First curator of birds and mammals at the AMNH and later first head of its Department of Ornithology; edited and expanded the museum's Bulletin. His 1889 expedition, funded by Jesup, was the first to be officially organized by the AMNH. Along with Coues and Brewster, he led the Nuttall Ornithological Club and in 1883 organized the AOU, becoming its first president. One of the first leaders of the American conservationist movement, Allen began his campaign to protect American game species with a monograph on the bison and a series of related articles in 1876. He was a founding member of Hornaday's American Bison Society and later the National Aududon Society. Hired and mentored Chapman at the AMNH.


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