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Evolutionary TheoryA Hierarchical Perspective$
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Niles Eldredge, Telmo Pievani, Emanuele Serrelli, and Ilya Tëmkin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226426051

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226426198.001.0001

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The Checkered Career of Hierarchical Thinking in Evolutionary Biology

The Checkered Career of Hierarchical Thinking in Evolutionary Biology

(p.1) Introduction The Checkered Career of Hierarchical Thinking in Evolutionary Biology
Evolutionary Theory

Niles Eldredge

University of Chicago Press

This article reconstructs the history and significance of hierarchical thinking in evolutionary theory, suggesting further development of hierarchical approaches in evolutionary biology. Darwin’s intellectual background was imbued with ideas on the nature of species and on the causal mechanisms of species origin and extinction. Important in informing Darwin's hierarchical thinking was Giambattista Brocchi's analogy between species and organisms with respect to individuality, birth, and death. This imprint shined through Darwin’s observations on differential extinction rates, geographic replacements, and other biogeographical patterns. Following the discovery of natural selection, Darwin came to consider species as ephemeral entities whose apparent individuality was an artifact of the imperfections of the fossil record. The subsequent gradualist nonhierarchical view of evolution was challenged in the 1930s by Dobzhansky and then Mayr, who resurrected hierarchical thinking by pointing out the reality of species as distinct biological entities. The 1972 punctuated equilibria hypothesis by Eldredge and Gould suggested the connection between the process of allopatric speciation and the pattern of apparent species stability and abrupt origin as documented by the fossil record. Today hierarchy theory accommodates strong empirical evidence for stasis and speciation and against exclusive gradualism, improving our understanding of structure and dynamics of the biological world.

Keywords:   species concepts, individuality, Giambattista Brocchi, Jean Baptiste Lamarck, Charles Darwin, punctuated equilibria, macroevolution, hierarchy theory, speciation, natural selection

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