Tag Archives: Darwin

Who was the father of biogeography? Let poetry decide! UPDATED

Norway from the air.jpeg

Over at the Dynamic Ecology blog yesterday, Jeremy Fox posted in the weekly Friday Links feature a piece about clerihews – four line poems about an eminent individual that follows a strict AA BB rhyming structure.  Jeremy’s challenge of “+1000 Internet Points for anyone who writes a clerihew about an ecologist in the comments”, of course, was like a proverbial red rag.  The clerihews came rolling in, including some great contributions, and some dodgy rhymes…  I contributed a couple:

Darwin’s natural selection
Was received with circumspection
But with development of society
Evolution replaced piety

and

Following the theories of Darwin
Science and religion were a-warrin’
But after natural selection
Came more balanced introspection

But then I suddenly found myself in a clerihew face-off  with Brazilian ecologist Rafael Pinheiro, which is too good not to preserve for posterity:

RP:

Look to this poor man called Wallace
He was not born and raised in a palace
But don’t get fooled by this misleading photography
The man is the father of biogeography

JO:

Von Humboldt travelled and mapped plants
When schoolboy Wallace wore short pants
So in a more accurate historiography
Von Humboldt’s the father of biogeography

RP:

Humboldt came first, I will not deny
But Wallace is the father and I’ll tell you why
He was not the first to study species distribution
But the one who explained it through evolution

JO:

Sure, Hooker embraced Darwin’s evolution
And came up with a very modern conclusion
But fatherhood is not about interpretation
It’s about the initial insemination

Jeremy award us 10,000 Internet Points and we agreed to call it a draw 🙂  Thanks to Jeremy for the initial challenge and to Rafael for being such a good sport.  It was a lot of fun.

UPDATE:

Jeremy has also highlighted the contributed clerihews with this post on Dynamic Ecology, to which Rafael has commented:

Jeff Ollerton studied pollinators and plants
When graduateboy me read his papers wearing short pants
So, I must admit, I am happy to be the one
Who faced him in the first clerihew slam

To which there’s only one possible response:

Rafael Pinheiro it’s been my pleasure
To trade these clerihews at leisure
But your last one, truth be told
Makes me feel old

 

 

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Filed under Biogeography

When Charles collide: Darwin, Bradlaugh, and birth control for Darwin Day 2016

Darwin-Bradlaugh

The town of Northampton celebrates a number of local heroes from sports, the arts, and even science.  These includ the footballer Walter Tull, the co-discover of the structure of DNA, Francis Crick, author Alan Moore, and former resident thespian Errol Flynn. I could go on, but in honour of Darwin Day 2016 I thought I’d focus on the great naturalist.

Darwin had several personal associations with Northampton and Northamptonshire. He was a corresponding member of the Northamptonshire Natural History Society, which is now one of the oldest surviving societies of its kind. Darwin also corresponded with Walter Drawbridge Crick a Northampton shoe manufacturer and amateur naturalist who was grandfather of Francis.

Further afield in Northamptonshire, Darwin had a number of friends and correspondents, including the Reverend John Downes, vicar of Horton & Piddington. By coincidence, the captain of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy, lived in Northamptonshire for much of his early life.

A Darwin link to Northampton that’s not widely known about is the brief correspondence he engaged in with Charles Bradlaugh the radical reformer and MP for the town during the 1880s.  Bradlaugh is a real local hero, with a very prominent statue in the town, and a pub, a local country park, and one of the university’s student residences named after the great man.

On 5th June 1877 Bradlaugh wrote to Darwin asking for his support in a court case by appearing as a witness for the defence: Bradlaugh and his colleague Annie Besant were charged with obscenity for writing that promoted contraception.  Darwin replied the very next day and politely declined.

As far as I’m aware the texts of both letters have never been published in full, only snippets are available.  An extract of Darwin’s letter is given in Charles Bradlaugh: a record of his Life and Work, written by his daughter:

“I have been for many years much out of health, and have been forced to give up all society or public meetings; and it would be great suffering to me to be a witness in Court. It is, indeed, not improbable that I may be unable to attend. Therefore, I hope that, if in your power, you will excuse my attendance…. If it is not asking too great a favour, I should be greatly obliged if you would inform me what you decide, as apprehension of the coming exertion would prevent the rest which I require doing me much good”.

At the Darwin Correspondence Project, Darwin’s response is summarised as follows and gives a very different flavour to his reaction:

“[Darwin] would prefer not to be a witness in court. In any case CD’s opinion is strongly opposed to that [of Bradlaugh and Besant].  [Darwin] believes artificial checks to the natural rate of human increase are very undesirable and that the use of artificial means to prevent conception would soon destroy chastity and, ultimately, the family.”

Bradlaugh’s letter has only a very brief summary and I’ve not seen any direct quotes (though perhaps I’ve missed them?)

The correspondence, its historical context, and the subsequent trial have been written about several times (see for example Peart and Levy 2005 and Peart and Levy 2008) and there’s some more recent commentary on Dan All0sso’s blog.

All of this gives a fascinating insight into Darwin as a socially conservative member of the English upper middle class, despite the radical implications of his ideas about evolution.  Bradlaugh and Besant (both true radicals in all senses of the word) were found guilty, fined and sentenced to six months in prison, though following an appeal the conviction was later overturned due to a legal technicality.

Happy Darwin Day to my readers!

 

 

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Filed under Charles Darwin, History of science, University of Northampton

Worm sex

P1020257

This morning I woke early and slipped quietly outside to enjoy the bird song and to let the chickens out of their coop.  The air was cool and the garden fresh and damp.  Slugs were scattered across the lawn heading back to their dark crevices after a night of scoffing our plants, so I decided to round up as many as I could find as a snack for the chickens.

I’d collected about 30 when I spotted something glistening with mucus that was clearly not a slug: two common European earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) were engaged in some hermaphrodite sex, male/female to male/female.  It was a personal, intimate moment that I felt I should not be witnessing, but I had to watch.  It’s an event that usually takes place under the cover of darkness and one sees it so infrequently; these lovers were clearly caught up in the moment and oblivious to the daylight.  Like a paparazzo who can’t believe what he’s stumbled across, I rushed inside to grab the camera.

Worm sex is quite a complex process involving the mutual transfer of sperm between individuals, which I think may be within that white, milky fluid you can see in the close-up below.

Suddenly the worms sensed I was there and they rapidly separated and slipped back into their respective holes, perhaps to replay the passion tonight?  I hope so: the garden needs as many worms as possible to aerate and turn the soil, and take leaves and other organic matter down into the depths.  They are incredibly important in traditional agricultural systems: Darwin famously wrote a two-volume treatise on earthworms and concluded that: “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as these lowly organised creatures”.

There you have it, worm sex for the weekend.  Amazing things happen in our gardens.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Charles Darwin, Gardens