It seemed Darwin had banished biological essences – yet evolution would fail without nature’s library of Platonic forms
Andreas Wagner is a professor in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich and at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. His latest book is Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution’s Greatest Puzzle (2014).
Edited by Ed Lake
When it slithers through the grass, the legless glass lizard is indistinguishable from a snake. But harass it and it will perform a very un-snakelike feat. It will leave its tail behind – still wriggling – and slide away. That isn’t the only surprise the glass lizard has in store. A careful look also reveals inflexible jaws, movable eyelids, and ear openings. These are all traits that lizards display but snakes don’t. One way or another, this peculiar creature slithers between the cracks of our familiar categories.
To organise the messy diversity of a million-plus different life forms, we need to sort them into the boxes we call species. And what would be more natural than using visible traits such as legs, jaws or ears for that purpose? About a century before Charles Darwin, the systematist Carl Linnaeus did just that when he created our modern classification of life’s diversity. So did Georges Cuvier, the father of palaeontology, when he classified fossils that had been preserved through the ages.
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Saiba mais quem é Andreas Wagner:
Andreas Wagner é professor no Instituto de Biologia Evolucionária na Universidade de Zurique, na Suíça, e Professor Externo no Instituto Santa Fe. Ele palestra pelo mundo inteiro, e é um fellow da American Association for the Advancement of Sciences. Ele reside em Zurique, Suíça.
Andreas Wagner Laboratory, University of Zurich