Memoir

Ernst Mayr

Harvard University

July 5, 1904 - February 3, 2005


Election Year: 1954
Scientific Discipline: Evolutionary Biology
Membership Type: Member

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr contributed to the synthetic theory of evolution, which combines the ideas of both Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics. He wrote the book Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942), where he explained speciation among a population of individuals that are similar morphologically, stating that once a species becomes isolated by some environmental factor, it will start to differ through natural selection and genetic drift and over time will evolve to form a new species.

Mayr earned his PhD in ornithology from the University of Berlin. On a trip to New Guinea, he discovered and categorized twenty-six new species of birds. He then worked as a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in the ornithological department. Mayr joined the faculty of Harvard University as Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in 1953 and served as director of the University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology from 1961 to 1970.

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