2009-04-03 / Columnists

Drawing On Science For Kids

Evidence For Evolution
Commentary By Stephen S. Yaeger

In 1831 the "HMS Beagle" departed from Plymouth, England on a voyage to South America, around Cape Horn north to the Galapagos Islands, west to Australia, around the Cape of Good Hope and back to England. The vessel stopped at many locations throughout the voyage for the purposes of mapping and collecting plant and animal specimens.

Aboard the "Beagle" was a 21-year-old naturalist, Charles Darwin. Darwin's job was to collect, record, and study the animal and plant specimens found throughout the voyage. Over the years his studies of the specimens, particularly those from the Galapagos Islands off South America, convinced Darwin that species are not static. He concluded that they gradually change or evolve over a period of time and that survival of the species depends on adaptation to a changing environment, complexity of the individual, and diversity within the population of the species.

He called this phenomenon natural selection and he was not alone in drawing this conclusion. Another naturalist, Alfred Wallace, came to the same conclusions in his studies of variations in species. Wallace and Darwin agreed to write a joint paper with the long title "On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection." The paper was read to the Linnaean Society on July 1, 1858 and was published in its Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society. A year later Darwin published his findings in his "On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection." Wallace fell into the shadow of Darwin over the following years, but his contribution to the Theory of Evolution is still recognized today. In some cases the theory is referred to as the Darwin-Wallace Theory of Evolution.

Evolution, as Darwin explained, is supported by overproduction of offspring within species, fossils of long-extinct plants and animals, comparative anatomy, and comparative embryology.

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