Welcome to my new-look website. In the coming weeks, we'll be transferring content from my former site, as well as adding new material. First up is The Kosi Maneaters, an account of man-eating tigers in India, past and present, written as an homage to my dear friend and colleague, termite specialist Kumar Krishna. Please also check another new website, The Burned-Over District, compiled in conjunction with Harold B. Rollins (Rollins-Eldredge.com).
Phacops rana. Moscow Formation (Middle Devonian), Lebanon, New York. This trilobite species-lineage served as the original example of "punctuated equilibria." Photo (in the field, May 2015) by Art Murphy.
ANNOUNCING THREE NEW BOOKS BY NILES ELDREDGE!
Extinction and Evolution. What Fossils Reveal about the History of Life (Firefly Books, 2014). Introduction by Carl Zimmer. Illustrated with numerous gorgeous color photos of important fossils, Extinction and Evolution explores the scientific lessons on extinction and evolution learned from the rich fossil record of the history of life.
Niles Eldredge and Sidney Horenstein have teamed up to produce Concrete Jungle. New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future (U. California Press, 2014). With 76 photographs, largely by Sidney Horenstein, Concrete Jungle explores the environmental yin and yang of cities as exemplified especially by our native New York City: Cities are at once the apotheosis of environmental destruction; yet through their multifarious scientific, political, NGOs, educational and financial institutions, cities are paradoxically and simultaneously the very best hope for the maintenance of life's diversity the world over.
Finally, Niles Eldredge has also written his magnum opus Eternal Ephemera. Adaptation and the Origin of Species from the 19th Century Through Punctuated Equilibria and Beyond (Columbia University Press, Feb. 2015). For a 30% discount, visit the Columbia University website page http://cup.columbia.edu/book/eternal-ephemera/9780231153164 and enter the promo code ELDETE.
Niles' text begins with the earliest days of the search for a non-miraculous explanation of the origin of species, beginning with Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Giambattista Brocchi. He traces Darwin's education in medical school in Edinburgh, and as a prospective clergyman at Cambridge in the 1820s. He follows Darwin's journey on the Beagle as Darwin begins to embrace the idea of evolution ever more strongly. In the late 1830s Darwin adds the notion of adaptation to the problem of the origin of species, and soon comes up with the key idea of natural selection.
Niles explains how Darwin knew of evolution of new species in isolation--and was aware, as well, of the typical stability of species through significant intervals of geological time (a result he always found to be problematical). In essence, Darwin was well aware of the core elements of what Niles and Stephen Jay Gould later came to call "punctuated equilibria" in the 1970s. Read how Niles explains why Darwin walked away from this model to favor a picture of gradual change of entire species through the slow steady workings of natural selection--even though he had more evidence for rapid evolution in isolation followed by lack of substantial change ("stasis" in the terminology of Eldredge and Gould) than he had for his preferred model of slow steady change for the origin of species (the "gradualism" of Eldredge and Gould).
Darwin published his mature theory On the Origin of Species in 1859. No one knew that in his private notebooks written in the 1830s, Darwin had had a clear idea of rapid evolutionary change in isolation, followed by great stability, as one of two ways natural selection and adaptation could be involved in the process of the origin of new species. It was not until 75 years had elapsed that Russian-born geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky began the process of resurrecting some of the important evolutionary ideas that Darwin had decided to discard. It was Dobzhansky, followed soon thereafter by the ornithologist Ernst Mayr, who stressed the importance of isolation in the origin of new species from old, formulating the notion of geographic ("allopatric") speciation. Then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Niles completed the restoration when he added the notion of stability of species once they first appear - teaming up in the final stages of this work with Steve Gould to produce the theory of "Punctuated Equilibria."
There was more to come--and the theory soon grew far beyond the bounds that Darwin had initially conceived. Niles and Steve, at the end of their 1972 paper, began the conversation leading to the notions of "species selection" and Elisabeth Vrba's concept of "species sorting" and their importance in macroevolution. Hierarchy theory, based on the realization that genes are parts of organisms; organisms are parts of species, and species are parts of larger-scale biological entities, was another important outgrowth of punctuated equilibria. Niles' theory of the "Sloshing Bucket" in essence put the flesh and bones on the abstractions of hierarchy theory--helping to crystallize how the ecological and evolutionary worlds are causally connected and interrelated in the history of life.
All this and much much more! The data for this book consists of the actual words written by evolutionary biologists from its inception in 1801, through Darwin's mentors, Darwin himself, and after a 75 year gap, those in the modern era who independently saw the importance of isolation and stasis in the births, histories and deaths of species. I am personally excited that Eternal Ephemera has now been published in early 2015!