Ernst Mayr

"Where the issue is controversial I have not hesitated to choose the interpretation that seems most consistent with the picture of the evolutionary process that now emerges. To take an unequivocal stand, it seems to me, is of greater heuristic value and far more likely to stimulate constructive criticism than to evade the issue." (1963)

Prolific and long-lived German-American vertebrate systematist and evolutionary theorist. Along with Simpson and Stebbins, Mayr argued that the new theories of population genetics invented by Fisher, Wright and Haldane could be synthesized with field- and specimen-based biological data to produce a coherent, neo-Darwinian account of evolution. Mayr extended these ideas to argue for the biological species concept, "population thinking" in taxonomy, and the theory of allopatric speciation. LIke the other neo-Darwinians, Mayr argued against orthogenesis, neo-Lamarckism, and saltationist versions of Mendelism. In the 60's and 70's Mayr defended "evolutionary taxonomy" (which blended phylogenetic and ecomorphological information to produce qualitatively-justified classifications) against the new ideas of pheneticists like Sokal and Sneath and cladists like Nelson and Farris. Ironically, it was Mayr who first introducted the terms "phenetics" and "cladistics." In the 70's Mayr's belief that the isolation of small, peripheral populations led to rapid speciation and morphological change (i.e., the "founder principle" and "peripheral isolates speciatin") was blended by Gould and Eldredge with Simpson's idea of "quantum evolution" to produce the theory of punctuated equilibrium. Mayr also conducted extensive ornithological field work and wrote extensively on the history of biology. Immigrated to the U.S.A. from Germany in 1930.


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