There has been widespread lamentation of the passing of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino. But it was already an extinct species. These magnificent creatures snuffed it a long time ago and few people noticed. Extinction is sneaky.
Working through my synopsis of Darwin's 'Origin' got me thinking about how things have changed. We now have unprecedented access to the blueprints of life. Genetic technologies are changing how we view living things, but might they even begin to dissolve the very meaning of a 'species'?
‘Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.’
In chapters 11 & 12, Darwin discusses why species are distributed as they are: why islands seem species poor yet produce such extraordinary forms, why alpine species are so similar yet separated by vast tracts of lowland, or why species in nearby habitats can sometimes be so drastically different. Read my distilled version here.
In chapters 9 & 10, Darwin explores what the geological record can tell us about biological history, such as the succession of different forms over geological time, and the ways in which it is severely lacking. Read my distilled version here.
In chapters 7 & 8 we find out Darwin's ideas for the evolution of complex behaviours like cocoon making in caterpillars or comb-building in bees, and the effects of mixing species through hybridism. Read my distilled version here.
In chapters 4-6, Darwin powerfully brings home the implications of his argument to show how natural selection could cause evolution os species, and pre-empts his critics by addressing some of the problems with his theory such as the evolution of complex structures such as eyes. Read my distilled version here.
In the first three chapters of the Origin, Darwin lays out the basis for artificial and natural selection: the fact that all organisms vary, and that they compete for existence and to reproduce. Read my distilled version here.
Darwin's famous book 'On the Origin of Species' laid out his theory of evolution by natural selection and it is still one of the finest scientific works ever written. In honour of Darwin's birthday, I'll publish an excerpt from my 15000-word distilled version of the Origin each day. If you have never read it, and wish you had, this will hopefully show you why you should!