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Rothschild, Hartert and Jordan


Early work on bird migration
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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I had a number of ideas on bird migration and when I did, at that time, I was still a Lamarckian, let's remember that. And when I read this paper now I am just a little bit, shall we say, embarrassed. However, I had a number of ideas. At that time there was a good fight going on: why do birds migrate? And is the winter quarter the original home of the species from which they have expanded northward into their breeding territory? And so forth. And… I analyzed all these factors and wrote this paper, but when it wasn't quite finished yet I went to New Guinea and my good friend Wilhelm Meise, two years older than I, also a… a PhD candidate with [Erwin] Stresemann, finished it up and I might happily say that Meise is now just above 95 and he is still alive and still apparently in good shape. Well, the one thing in particular that I pointed out in this paper and which people didn't pick up until just about 20 years ago, is that there must be some competition between these hoards of northern migrants that settle in tropical areas or subtropical areas, and the resident bird population. And I suggested that this competition be studied by somebody. Well that is now being studied, but I'm quite sure, at least so far as I know the literature, I was the first person to point that out.

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: New Guinea, Wilhelm Meise, Erwin Stresemann

Duration: 1 minute, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008