Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin
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Ten Thousand Birds provides a thoroughly engaging and authoritative history of modern ornithology, tracing how the study of birds has been shaped by a succession of visionary and often-controversial personalities, and by the unique social and scientific contexts in which these extraordinary individuals worked. This beautifully illustrated book opens in the middle of the nineteenth century when ornithology was a museum-based discipline focused almost exclusively on the anatomy, taxonomy, and classification of dead birds. It describes how in the early 1900s pioneering individuals such as Erwin Stresemann, Ernst Mayr, and Julian Huxley recognized the importance of studying live birds in the field, and how this shift thrust ornithology into the mainstream of the biological sciences. The book tells the stories of eccentrics like Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a pathological liar who stole specimens from museums and quite likely murdered his wife, and describes the breathtaking insights and discoveries of ambitious and influential figures such as David Lack, Niko Tinbergen, Robert MacArthur, and others who through their studies of birds transformed entire fields of biology.
Ten Thousand Birds brings this history vividly to life through the work and achievements of those who advanced the field. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews, this fascinating book reveals how research on birds has contributed more to our understanding of animal biology than the study of just about any other group of organisms.
of longer forelimb feathers, gliding and even takeoff would have been possible. “Even Archaeopteryx, which is often cast as a poor flier, could have taken off from the ground,”72 says Chiappe. In a similar vein, John Videler (2006) of Leiden University suggested the “Jesus Christ dinosaur” model of flight origins, whereby protobirds may have gained advantages for both escape and foraging by running over the surface of water rather than land. Videler supported his ideas with a detailed analysis of
structuring of communities and cific (see chapter 3), Peter Grant realized in in the evolution of at least some differences the early 1960s that islands were ideal for between species that lived in the same areas. studying evolutionary processes, especially Because he had a young family and wanted where comparisons could be made among to work close to home on a project where he islands in a group, or between island forms could do experiments, Grant focused his emand those on the nearest mainland.
et al. 2009). Populations that migrate northwest from Germany to England have narrower beaks, rounder wings, and browner back plumage than those that migrate southwesterly to Spain. Because populations from the two wintering areas arrive back on the breeding grounds at different times, there is assortative mating by individuals taking different migration routes, resulting in the rapid evolution of ecotypes of the sort that result in speciation. Though these two migratory groups are not yet
in these birds but also for the underlying genetic mechanisms behind such an evolutionary change. It turns out that a simple regulatory pathway might hold the key via its effect on development. This is a nice example of the emerging field of evo- devo, looking at how evolution and development are intricately related. Silkie fowl: William Bateson and Reginald Punnett (1911) studied the genetics of black skin pigmentation (called “hyperpigmentation”) in the silkie fowl and discovered that it was
because of evolutionary considerations but rather because museums housed more songbird specimens due to their smaller size, making them easier for him to study with some degree of completeness. The problem with making ordered lists of species is nicely illustrated by the treatment of songbirds over the years, with three major sequences presented in world lists of birds. Sharpe, as we saw, put the crows last, and Hartert (1903–32) followed suit, establishing some authority that was obeyed by most