On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was first published 24th November 1859. 2009 marked the 150th anniversary of this landmark publication.

H.M.S. Beagle

Charles Robert Darwin was born in 1809 and studied medicine, later changing to divinity at Cambridge University. A fellow naturalist told Darwin that seeds originating from South Atlantic islands germinated in the Kerguelen Islands in the far south of the Indian Ocean. Intrigued, Darwin signed up for a five year scientific expedition of the southern oceans on the survey ship HMS Beagle.

Lyell’s Geology

Darwin, an avid reader read Lyell’s Principles of Geology which described fossils found in rocks that had lived thousands, possibly millions of years ago. Darwin broadened his inquiring mind by observing the rich variety of animal life and the geological features including recently cooled lava, on the Galapagos Islands, some 800km west of South America. Darwin failed to capture samples of the finches which were closely related but unique to each island on which he spent only 5 weeks. Darwin noticed the mockingbirds and retained samples of several varieties.


The Theory of Evolution

Darwin returned to England in 1836 and later proposed the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. The species best suited to their environment are most likely to survive and reproduce with the species gradually changing over time. Darwin worked on his theory until, when in 1858 Alfred Wallace proposed a similar idea, the pair made a joint announcement of their discovery. In 1859 Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Experimentation through observation

Darwin lived a long life and conducted many simple experiments to prove or disprove natural selection. Darwin soaked many plant seed species, some 125 in number, in salt water and concluded that peas and beans were capable of making a long sea voyage and germinate, thereby explaining the Kerguelen Islands flora.

Erosion over millions of years

Darwin calculated the rate of erosion of the chalk cliffs of Dover thereby dating their formation to 600 million years ago.

Darwin proved that mice and bees had an affect on red clover proliferation. Mice attack beehives thereby reducing clover pollination. Domestic cats reduce the numbers of mice so that bees thrive increasing the pollination and proliferation of red clover.

Darwin’s controversy

Darwin’s theory concluded mankind evolved from the tree of life, thereby offending religious orders. Darwin never stated that man was descended from monkeys – his theory implied it.

Darwin, a prolific writer in later life, wrote books and articles on his observations of the wonders of thenatural world.