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Biogeography: plate tectonics


Why birds are a good starting point in biology
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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Birds are such a good stepping stone to do researches in general biology because there is no other group of organisms that is as well known as… as are birds. Literally all the 9500 or 10,000 – depending how you split them – species that are… at present, exist, have been discovered, have been carefully described, their geographic variation is known, and so on and so forth. And so it is, birds are a marvellous stepping stone in three directions: toward evolution, toward systematics, and toward biogeography.

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: nature, birds, biology, evolution, systematics, biogeography

Duration: 39 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008