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Peripatetic speciation


Establishing the existence of new species of Paramecium aurelia
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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I had a long standing argument with the great protozoologist Tracy Sonneborn about Paramecium. He described Paramecium aurelia, one of the species, with 14 varieties, and I looked at these varieties and I said, ‘Well, they're all perfectly good species because they coexist’. This was as far back as my 1942 book, and he definitely disagreed with me. I invited him in 1957 to write a chapter in a book on species problems and he still firmly defended that these were varieties. Well, I think it was finally in 1974 that he caved in and agreed yes, there are good species, and described 14 new species of the Paramecium aurelia complex.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: 1942, 1957, 1974, Tracy Sonneborn

Duration: 56 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008