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Revista chilena de historia natural

Print version ISSN 0716-078X


GALLARDO, MILTON H. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913): Legacy and figure. Rev. chil. hist. nat. [online]. 2013, vol.86, n.3, pp.241-250. ISSN 0716-078X.

This year, the centennial of the death of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection is remembered. He was born in Wales and at the age of 13, left school due to his family's financial problems. He was an open minded, inquisitive free thinker. His interest and evolutionary knowledge was developed though his travels to the Amazon and to the Malay archipelago. He collected and sold specimens to museums in England to make a living. His paper on butterflies is a paradigmatic example of darwinism and the role of reproductive isolation. His studies in South Western Asia culminated with his description of the Wallace Line. Another important contribution was his 1855 paper "On the law which regulated the introduction of new species", where the concept of evolutionary divergence was developed. While in Ternate, he wrote and sent to Darwin his manuscript "On the tendency of varieties to depart infinitely from the original type", a brilliantly clear and concise description of the origin and subsequent divergence of species. The arrival time of this manuscript is controversial and the implication has been advanced that Darwin plagiarized Wallace ideas. In 1880, Wallace published "The origin of species and genera" where he distinguished between descendence and the origin of species by natural selection. His ideas on natural selection emphasize the elimination of the maladapted and departs from the analogy between natural and artificial selection since the latter is not permanent but transient. In 1889 he published his own version of the evolutionary theory, "Darwinism: an exposition of the theory of natural selection - with some of its applications". He also made substantial contributions to theoretical biogeography and stressed the importance of conserving natural habitats. As time passed by, the ideas of Wallace and Darwin diverged significantly. The former thought that neither natural selection was the exclusive evolutionary mechanism nor that the human mind and other high mental processes could be explained by natural selection, sexual selection or by the properties of matter. Thus, he combined evolutionism with spiritualism to explain human evolution and evolutionary ethics. He also questioned the Victorian values and never accepted the free market principles. He was an enthusiastic proponent of land reforms and a fervent opponent to the government's vaccination program due to the risk of getting the disease through the vaccine. His profound humanistic values and his commitment with the exploited ones were additional attributes of his high stature and personality. At present, Wallace's contributions to the origin and further development of the evolutionary theory are being examined with a new, fresh look.

Keywords : Darwinism; evolution; natural selection; Wallace.

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