Chapter

Paradise Lost Unraveling the Mysteries of Insular Species

in Nature's Ghosts

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780226038148
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226038155 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226038155.003.0003
Paradise Lost Unraveling the Mysteries of Insular Species

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By the early decades of the nineteenth century, the idea that myriad species had suffered extinction over the eons of time since the earth's origin presented a formidable challenge to the hoary notion of a static universe. Islands proved a particularly appealing site for naturalists struggling to understand how and why species came to be distributed. This chapter explores the growing interest in insular species and insular extinctions during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. It shows how, within a relatively short period in the 1830s and 1840s, naturalists reconstructed the story of the dodo, the moa, and the great auk. These pioneering studies provided early, well-documented, and widely accessible examples of human-induced extinction, and, in the case of the dodo, offered what would become the paradigmatic case of this phenomenon. The chapter also examines the critical role that observations about insular species played in the development of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin's theory of evolution provided a coherence to the previously puzzling patterns of insular biogeography.

Keywords: insular species; extinction; naturalists; dodo; moa; great auk; Charles Darwin; evolution; biogeography

Chapter.  13270 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental History

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