Alfred Russel Wallace was a British naturalist who made numerous contributions to the field of evolutionary biology. He is perhaps best known for co-discovering the theory of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin.
However, his contributions to the theory of evolution go far beyond this single discovery. In this article, we will explore how Alfred Russel Wallace contributed to the theory of evolution.
Early Life and Career
Wallace was born in Usk, Monmouthshire, Wales in 1823. He was interested in natural history from a young age and spent much of his youth exploring the countryside around his home. In 1844, he began working as a land surveyor in the Amazon basin, where he spent several years collecting specimens and studying the flora and fauna of the region.
Wallace’s Theory of Evolution
In 1858, Wallace wrote an essay on the topic of “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type.” This essay laid out his theory of evolution by natural selection. The essay was sent to Charles Darwin for review, who was surprised to see that Wallace had independently arrived at many of the same conclusions he had been working on for years.
Joint Publication with Darwin
Darwin recognized that Wallace’s work was important and arranged for their joint paper to be presented at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London in 1858. This paper outlined both Darwin’s and Wallace’s ideas about evolution by natural selection.
Wallace’s Work on Biogeography
In addition to his work on evolution, Wallace also made significant contributions to biogeography—the study of how plants and animals are distributed across different regions. His research showed that many species were unique to certain geographic locations, which led him to propose what is now known as the “Wallace Line.” This line separates the flora and fauna of Asia and Australia and is still used by biogeographers today.
Wallace’s Advocacy for Social Issues
Later in his life, Wallace became an advocate for various social issues. He was a supporter of women’s suffrage, land reform, and workers’ rights. He also spoke out against imperialism and advocated for the rights of indigenous peoples.
Alfred Russel Wallace made significant contributions to the theory of evolution by natural selection. His work on biogeography helped to shape our understanding of how species are distributed across different regions, while his advocacy for social issues showed that he was more than just a scientist—he was a man with a strong sense of ethics and justice. Today, we continue to remember Wallace as one of the great thinkers in the history of evolutionary biology.