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Discontinuous faunas


The fauna of Australia
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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There seemed to be a real conflict between the interpretations of the ornithologist and the claims of the geologist, and that deals with the fauna of Australia. According to the geologists, Australia having been a part of that Mesozoic Gondwana continent that extended from South America across the south… across Antarctic to Australia, the bird fauna of Australia should have a strong Gondwana element. But in reality at best 3% only of the Australian birds are Gondwana elements, and the biogeographers just simply couldn’t believe it. But now the latest geological investigations show that actually during the break up of Gondwanaland a major fringe of the Australian plate separated from Australia, moved northward and established contact with Asia, with so-called Laurasia. And this series of islands, these small broken up plates served as stepping stones for colonists coming down from Asia, so here the… so a geographer had discovered something or had demonstrated something that the geologists only later were able to discover.

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: Australia, Gondwana, Gondwanaland, Mesozoic era, South America, Antarctic, Asia, Laurasia

Duration: 1 minute, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008