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Darwin’s Finches

Readings in the Evolution of a Scientific Paradigm

Darwin’s Finches

Readings in the Evolution of a Scientific Paradigm

Two species come to mind when one thinks of the Galapagos Islands—the giant tortoises and Darwin’s fabled finches. While not as immediately captivating as the tortoises, these little brown songbirds and their beaks have become one of the most familiar and charismatic research systems in biology, providing generations of natural historians and scientists a lens through which to view the evolutionary process and its role in morphological differentiation.

In Darwin’s Finches, Kathleen Donohue excerpts and collects the most illuminating and scientifically significant writings on the finches of the Galapagos to teach the fundamental principles of evolutionary theory and to provide a historical record of scientific debate. Beginning with fragments of Darwin’s Galapagos field notes and subsequent correspondence, and moving through the writings of such famed field biologists as David Lack and Peter and Rosemary Grant, the collection demonstrates how scientific processes have changed over time, how different branches of biology relate to one another, and how they all relate to evolution. As Donohue notes, practicing science today is like entering a conversation that has been in progress for a long, long time. Her book provides the history of that conversation and an invitation to join in. Students of both evolutionary biology and history of science will appreciate this compilation of historical and contemporary readings and will especially value Donohue’s enlightening commentary.

512 pages | 34 halftones, 70 line drawings, 31 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Biological Sciences: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Natural History, Physiology, Biomechanics, and Morphology


“Biologists, historians, and anyone with an interest in Darwin’s finches and their place in evolutionary biology and ecology will appreciate this wonderful compendium.”

Frederick R. Davis, Florida State University | Quarterly Review of Biology

“Darwin’s finches are famous for what they have revealed about evolution. Understanding of how, when, and why they evolved has increased enormously since Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos in 1835. Kathleen Donohue has creatively helped the reader to learn how this happened by assembling an extensive and fascinating collection of writings spanning more than 150 years. The result is a treasure, a stimulating history for the biologist and biology for the historian.”

B. Rosemary Grant, Princeton University

“This anthology provides a fascinating record of how a small assemblage of innocuous birds living on a remote island chain became the cornerstone for studies of adaptation and the origin of species. The papers Donohue has compiled, together with her descriptions of their biological and historical importance, give us an unusually clear picture of the evolution of species and of science itself.”

Douglas W. Schemske, Michigan State University

“The finches of the Galapagos are an iconic example of evolution in action, even more important to the research of scientists today than they were to the development of Darwin’s ideas.   Kathleen Donohue has done a wonderful job in bringing together historical documents on the finches with contemporary papers from the cutting edge of research, illustrating how science progresses and how modern evolutionary biology is a synthetic, interdisciplinary field.  Interspersed with her own insightful commentary, Donohue has provided a great service to both students and scholars.”

Jonathan Losos, Harvard University

Table of Contents

Part 1: The Finches in Place

1. Grounding a Legend

2. Place: Historical Expeditions to the Galapagos

3. Land: A Thousand Accidents

4. A Confusion of Finches

Part 2: Adaptation and the Evolution of Diversity

5. What Matters? Variation and Adaptation

6. Diversity as Adaptation

7. Darwin’s Finches as a Case Study of Natural Selection

8. Sexual Selection in Darwin’s Finches

Part 3: The Origin and Maintenance of Species

9. Microevolution and Macroevolution: Does One Explain the Other?

10. The Evolution of Reproductive Isolation

11. Hyrbridization

12. The Genetic Basis of Variation: Molecular Genetics, Development, and Evolution

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