David Attenborough reads Charles Darwin

This video from Britain says about itself:

Sir David Attenborough Reads Charles Darwin#Attenborough90BBC

9 May 2016

Sir David reads the final paragraph of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin’s writings on the Internet

This 2012 video is called Evolution – Part 1 of 7 – Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (PBS Documentary).

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Project to Digitize Darwin’s Writings on Evolution Nearly Halfway Complete

by AMNH on 11/24/2014 02:36 pm

Tracing the evolution of Charles Darwin’s thoughts about evolution is becoming an increasingly accessible project, thanks to a growing cache of publicly available digitized Darwin manuscripts on the Museum’s site.

As of today—the 155th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species—the Museum’s Darwin Manuscripts Project has made available 12,000 high-resolution and color images of manuscript pages, drawings, book abstracts, and other writings, complete with transcriptions that decipher the famous naturalist’s handwriting. By June 2015, the Museum will host more than 30,000 digitized documents written by Darwin between 1835 and 1882.

“These notebooks, marginalia, portfolios, and abstracts were the basis for eight of Darwin’s books, beyond the Origin, that set down, enlarged, and defended the theory of evolution by natural selection,” said Darwin Manuscripts Project Director David Kohn. “In these writings, you can see Darwin as a thinker, a keen-eyed collector, an inspired observer, and a determined experimenter.”

The Darwin Manuscripts Project has been publishing Darwin’s writings since 2007, but the publication and interpretation of the entire corpus will make it possible for visitors to trace the gradual gestation and long maturation of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The project involves a close collaboration with Cambridge University Library, which holds Darwin‘s archives, and the Darwin Correspondence Project. Content is being simultaneously published by the Cambridge Digital Library.

The 12,000 documents accessible on the site now cover the 25-year period in which Darwin became convinced of evolution; discovered natural selection; developed explanations of adaptation, speciation, and a branching tree of life; and wrote the Origin.

Darwin’s work in creating the Origin of Species encompassed much more than just setting pen to paper and writing the epochal book,” Kohn said. “The Origin was the mature fruit of a prolonged process of scientific exploration and creativity that began toward the end of his Beagle voyage, which first kindled Darwin’s interest in evolution, and that continued to expand in range and deepen in conceptual rigor through numerous well-marked stages.”

The remainder of the manuscripts, which will be available in June 2015, will pick up in the year the Origin was published—1859—and will include the full record of Darwin’s massive experimental research program to substantiate the power of natural selection until his death in 1882.

Most influential academic books, according to Britons

This video is called The Genius of Charles Darwin – HD Full Length (All 3 Episodes).

There is not only a National Bird election in the Netherlands. There was also another election in Britain.

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

These five books have been named as the most influential academic texts of all time

Posted 2 hours ago by Louis Doré

The most influential academic books in history have been revealed in a public vote.

Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species from 1859, which founded evolutionary biology, was named the most influential academic text ever written.

The study was voted for by 26 per cent of the public in an online poll of over 900, to mark the inaugural Academic Book Week.

The top five were:

1) On the Origin of SpeciesCharles Darwin
2) The Communist ManifestoKarl Marx and Friedrich Engels
3) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
4) The RepublicPlato
5) Critique of Pure Reason – Immanuel Kant

Also shortlisted were:

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Ways of Seeing by John Berger
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
Orientalism by Edward Said
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

The poll was organised as part of a series of events and competitions throughout the UK, conducted by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in conjunction with the British Library, between 9-16 November.

Giant tortoises, new research

This video is about giant tortoises and turtles.

From the BBC:

The truth about giant tortoises

They’re big but tortoises used to be much bigger, and while they may be slow on their feet their minds may be surprisingly quick

Henry Nicholls

Reputation: Giant tortoises live on islands. They can be aged by studying growth rings on their shells, which is how we know they are the longest lived vertebrate on record. Charles Darwin found they moved a whole lot faster than he’d imagined.

Reality: Giant tortoises are a recent evolutionary innovation and used to be everywhere, not just on islands. It’s impossible to age them accurately unless you know when they hatched. They are actually pretty slow. Darwin was probably chasing them.

The largest tortoises in the world are to be found on the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean and in the Galápagos in the Pacific. But this truth has given rise to the false belief – often found in textbooks – that their large size is a product of island life. It almost certainly isn’t.

This much is evident from a cursory inspection of the fossil record. A typical Galápagos tortoise has a carapace around 100 cm long. If this is the benchmark for “giant”, it is clear that giant tortoises were not restricted to small islands. They were everywhere.

In the southern USA and Central America, for instance, there was a monster of a tortoise known as the southeastern giant tortoise (Hesperotestudo crassiscutata) that only went extinct around 12,000 years ago.

In Queensland, Australia there used to be a beast that goes by the name of Owen’s giant horned ninja turtle (Ninjemys oweni). Before you ask, yes, it was named after the ninja turtles of teenage mutant fame.

Then there was the real mother of all giants, the Siwaliks giant tortoise (Megalochelys atlas), which was tramping around what is now the Punjab in India until a few million years ago. It was around twice the size of a Galápagos tortoise.

In addition, a 1999 genetic analysis of Galápagos tortoises suggests their ancestors were probably pretty large before they left mainland South America several million years ago.

In fact, it’s been argued that being big was a necessary pre-adaption for the successful colonization of remote oceanic islands. If it finds itself in the water, a giant tortoise will bob along tolerably well, its long neck ensuring it doesn’t take on too much water.

If there used to be so many giant tortoises, where are they all now? A recent study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature indicates that giant tortoises have suffered a far higher incidence of extinction than more modestly sized tortoises and turtles.

“These slow moving and non-threatening animals required minimal effort to find,” wrote Anders Rhodin, director of the Chelonian Research Foundation and his colleagues.

Worse, giant tortoises can survive without food or water for long periods. That meant they could be stored – alive – to provide fresh meat many months down the line.

“Tortoises were, essentially, the earliest pre-industrial version of ‘canned food’,” they suggest. Early hominins opened their shells with stone-tool “can-openers”.

It is only because humans came late to the Seychelles and the Galápagos that we can still marvel at these creatures today.

In these isolated spots, giant tortoises have become reptilian representatives, their extreme longevity casting them as a living link to a lost world. But how long do they live, really?

It is often said that you can age a tortoise by counting growth rings on its shell. Unfortunately, this is only reliable for the first year or two and is useless for aging an animal that is fully grown – which for giant tortoises is at the age of around 20.

The only reliable method of aging a tortoise is to record its year of birth. In a few instances where this has been done for giant tortoises, it is clear they can live for 150 years or more.

Giant tortoises are not known for their speed. When in the Galápagos in 1835, Charles Darwin found that they moved faster than he’d imagined.

“One large one, I found by pacing, walked at the rate of 60 yards in 10 minutes, or 360 in the hour,” he wrote in his Zoology Notes. “At this pace, the animal would go four miles [6.4 km] in the day & have a short time to rest.”

More recently, researchers have been using tracking devices to record movements of Galápagos tortoises in more detail. It turns out they are not nearly so lively, most of the time making small movements around a relatively small patch.

“Our tortoises don’t usually move more than absolute max of 2 km per day,” says Stephen Blake, coordinator of the Galápagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Programme. “Darwin was probably chasing them.”

They might be slow, but they are also probably smarter than most people imagine.

Research on the South American red-footed tortoise (a not-too-distant relative of the giant tortoises in the Galápagos) shows they use landmarks to create cognitive maps of their surroundings. They can also follow the gaze of another tortoise and learn from the behaviour of others. It seems likely that giant tortoises are capable of similar cognitive feats.

Evolution, Darwin, Wallace and Patrick Matthew

This video says about itself:

Forsdyke Evolution Academy 01-14 Patrick Matthew

12 October 2011

The second of a series of 12 videos on natural selection from a historical perspective.

From King’s College London in England:

April 20, 2015

The overlooked third man

The horticulturist who came up with the concept of ‘evolution by natural selection‘ 27 years before Charles Darwin did should be more widely acknowledged for his contribution, states a new paper by a King’s College London geneticist.

The paper, published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, argues that Patrick Matthew deserves to be considered alongside Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace as one of the three originators of the idea of large-scale evolution by .

Furthermore, Matthew’s version of evolution by natural section captures a valuable aspect of the theory that isn’t so clear in Darwin‘s version – namely, that natural selection is a deductive certainty more akin to a ‘law’ than a hypothesis or theory to be tested.

Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) was a Scottish landowner with a keen interest in politics and agronomy. He established extensive orchards of apples and pears on his estate at Gourdie Hill, Perthshire, and became adept in horticulture, silviculture and agriculture.

Whilst Darwin and Wallace‘s 1858 paper to the Linnean Society, On the Origin of Species, secured their place in the history books, Matthew had set out similar ideas 27 years earlier in his book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture. The book, published in 1831, addressed best practices for the cultivation of trees for shipbuilding, but also expanded on his concept of natural selection.

“There is a law universal in nature, tending to render every reproductive being the best possibly suited to its condition that its kind, or that organized matter, is susceptible of, which appears intended to model the physical and mental or instinctive powers, to their highest perfection, and to continue them so. This law sustains the lion in his strength, the hare in her swiftness, and the fox in his wiles.” (Matthew, 1831: 364)

In 1860, Matthew wrote to point out the parallels with his prior work, several months after the publication of On the origin of species. Darwin publically wrote in 1860 “I freely acknowledge that Mr. Matthew has anticipated by many years the explanation which I have offered of the origin of species”, while Wallace wrote publically in 1879 of “how fully and clearly Mr. Matthew apprehended the theory of natural selection, as well as the existence of more obscure laws of evolution, many years in advance of Mr. Darwin and myself”, and further declared Matthew to be “one of the most original thinkers of the first half of the 19th century”. However, both asserted their formulations were independent of Matthew’s.

Even if Matthew did not influence Darwin and Wallace, his writings provide a valuable third point of reference on the notion of macroevolution by natural selection, argues the paper’s author, Dr Michael Weale. Dr Weale has created a public website to act as an online repository of the writings by Patrick Matthew, including some of his lesser-known work.

Dr Michael Weale, from the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics at King’s College London, said: ‘Whilst Darwin and Wallace both deserve recognition for their work, Matthew, the outsider who deduced his idea as part of a grand scheme of a purposeful universe, is the overlooked third man in the story. Matthew’s story is an object lesson in the perils of low-impact publishing. Despite its brevity, and to some extent because of it, Matthew’s work merits our renewed attention.’

Explore further: Darwin’s finches highlight the unity of all life

More information: ‘Patrick Matthew’s Law of Natural Selection’ by Michael Weale is published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society and can be accessed here.

From Wikipedia:

Matthew’s idea on society were radical for their times. Although he was a landowner, he was involved with the Chartist movement, and argued that institutions of “hereditary nobility” were detrimental to society. It has been suggested that these views worked against acceptance of his theory of natural selection, being politically incorrect at the time (see Barker, 2001).

Fossils collected by Charles Darwin: here.

Galapagos finches and Charles Darwin

This video says about itself:

Galapagos Finch Evolution — HHMI BioInteractive Video

26 August 2014

The Galápagos finches remain one of our world’s greatest examples of adaptive radiation. Watch as evolutionary biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant detail their 40-year project to painstakingly document the evolution of these famous finches. Their pioneering studies have revealed clues as to how 13 distinct finch species arose from a single ancestral population that migrated to the islands 2 million to 3 million years ago.

Use this video as a supplementary resource for lesson plans centered on teaching evolution. The video expertly illustrates the effects of natural selection on Galápagos finch populations.

Free classroom resources supporting this short film can be found here.

By Frank Nicholas, The Conversation:

April 3, 2015

Darwin’s finches highlight the unity of all life

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in October 1835, he and his ship-mates on board HMS Beagle collected specimens of birds, including finches and mockingbirds, from various islands of the archipelago.

At the time, Darwin took little interest in the quaint , making only a one-word mention of them in his diary. As painstakingly shown by Frank Sulloway and more recently by John Van Whye, it wasn’t until two years later that the finches sparked Darwin’s interest.

By then he had received feedback from the leading taxonomist of the time, John Gould, that the samples comprised 14 distinct species, none of which had been previously described! Gould also noted that their “principal peculiarity consisted in the bill [i.e. beak] presenting several distinct modifications of form”.

So intrigued was Darwin by this variation in size and shape of beaks that in the second (1845) edition of Journal of Researches he included illustrations of the distinctive variation between species in the size and shape of their beaks. He added a comment that:

Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.

Unfortunately for Darwin, the closer he examined the available evidence on Galapagos finches, the more confusing the picture became. This was partly because the specimens available to him were not sufficiently labelled as to their island of collection.

Presumably, it was his doubt about the available evidence that resulted in Darwin making no mention of Galapagos finches in any edition of Origin of Species.

Why, then, do people now label them as “Darwin’s finches”, and why are these finches now regarded as a classical textbook example of his theory of evolution by natural selection?

Paragons of evolution

Despite not mentioning Galapagos finches, Darwin did make much use of evidence from other Galapagos species (especially mockingbirds) in Origin of Species.

As the influence of Origin of Species spread, so too did the evolutionary fame of the Galapagos Islands. Increasingly, other biologists were drawn into resolving the questions about finches that Darwin had left unanswered.

By the end of the 19th century, Galapagos finches were among the most studied of all birds. By the mid-20th century, there was abundant evidence that Galapagos finches had evolved to fill the range of ecological niches available in the archipelago – a classic example of evolution by adaptive radiation.

Beak size and shape were key attributes in determining adaptation to the different types of food available. In the second half of the 20th century, classic research by Princeton University’s Peter and Rosemary Grant provided evidence of quite strong natural selection on beak size and shape.

Under the hood

New light has also been shed on the evolution of Darwin’s finches in a paper recently published in Nature. In this latest research, the entire genomes of 120 individual birds from all Galapagos species plus two closely related species from other genera were sequenced.

The work was done by a team led by Swedish geneticist Leif Andersson, with major input from Peter and Rosemary Grant, who are still leading experts on the finches.

Comparison of sequence data enabled them to construct a comprehensive evolutionary tree based on variation across the entire finch genome. This has resulted in a revised taxonomy, increasing the number of species to 18.

The most striking feature of the genome-based tree is the evidence for matings between different populations, resulting in the occasional joining of two branches of the tree. This evidence of “horizontal” gene flow is consistent with field data on matings of finches gathered by the Grants.

A comparison of whole-genome sequence between two closely related groups of finches with contrasting beak shape (blunt versus pointed) identified at least 15 regions of chromosomes where the groups differ substantially in sequence.

Unity of life

The most striking difference between the two groups was observed in a chromosomal region containing a regulatory gene called ALX1. This gene encodes a peptide that switches other genes on and off by binding to their regulatory sequences.

Like other such genes, ALX1 is crucially involved in embryonic development. Indeed, mutations in ALX1 in humans and mice give rise to abnormal development of the head and face.

It is an extraordinary illustration of the underlying unity of all life on Earth that Leif Andersson and his colleagues have shown that the ALX1 gene also has a major effect on beak shape in finches, and that this gene has been subject to natural selection during the evolution of the Galapagos finches.

If Darwin were alive today, he would be astounded at the power of genomics tools such as those used in generating the results described in this paper. He would also be delighted to see such strong evidence not only in support of evolution but also in support of one of its major forces, .

The evolution of birds on the Galapagos Islands, the cradle of Darwin’s theory of evolution, is a two-speed process. Most bird species are still diversifying, while the famous Darwin’s finches have already reached an equilibrium, in which new species can only appear when an existing one becomes extinct. This finding expands the classical theory on island evolution put forward in the 1960s: here.