What Role Did Wallace Play in the Theory of Evolution?


Martha Robinson

Wallace is a name that is often mentioned in conversations about the theory of evolution. But who exactly was he, and what role did he play in this revolutionary scientific idea? In this article, we will explore the life and work of Alfred Russel Wallace, and how his contributions helped shape our understanding of evolution.

Who was Alfred Russel Wallace?

Alfred Russel Wallace was a British naturalist who lived from 1823 to 1913. He began his career as a surveyor and later turned to natural history.

Wallace spent many years exploring various parts of the world, particularly South America and Southeast Asia. During his travels, he collected thousands of specimens of plants and animals, which he sent back to Britain for study.

Wallace’s Contribution to Evolution

Wallace is best known for his role in the development of the theory of evolution. In the mid-19th century, Charles Darwin was also working on a theory of evolution by natural selection. However, it was Wallace’s independently arrived at idea that spurred Darwin into publishing his own work on the subject.

In 1858, Wallace wrote a letter to Darwin outlining his own ideas about natural selection. This letter presented an almost identical concept to what Darwin had been working on for years. Shocked by this coincidence, Darwin presented both their ideas together in a joint paper that was read before the Linnean Society later that year.

The Concept of Natural Selection

The concept of natural selection is at the core of evolution. It proposes that species evolve over time by adapting to their environment through changes in their genetic makeup. Individuals with advantageous traits are more likely to survive and pass on those traits to their offspring.

Wallace independently arrived at this idea after observing various species during his travels around the world. His observations led him to conclude that certain characteristics helped some animals survive better than others. He realized that these traits were passed down from generation to generation, leading to gradual changes in the species over time.

Wallace’s Other Contributions

In addition to his work on evolution, Wallace made many other important contributions to the field of natural history. For example, he was one of the first scientists to recognize the importance of studying animal behavior in their natural habitats. He also wrote extensively on biogeography, or the study of how living things are distributed across the planet.

Wallace was a prolific writer and authored many books and papers throughout his career. Some of his most famous works include “The Malay Archipelago” and “Darwinism: An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection.”


In conclusion, Alfred Russel Wallace played a significant role in the development of our understanding of evolution. His independent work on natural selection helped shape Charles Darwin’s own ideas on the subject and led to a joint publication that changed the course of scientific thought forever. In addition to his contributions to evolution, Wallace made many other important contributions to the field of natural history and remains an important figure in scientific history today.