Ernst Mayr on Ornithology
  Ernst Mayr     Biography    
Recorded: 31 Mar 2002

The remarkable thing is that many of these assemblages are geographically representative species of different islands. In particular—one of the Whistlers have this one, too—these are different islands except for these four—all these others are male and female of one species of all these different islands. Some have the white throat, some have the yellow throat, some have a black breast band—most of them do! But here is one that doesn’t have a black breast band. Here is one where male and female are the same and they look like females and so on and so forth. All of this is one assemblage of the most beautiful illustration of geographic specification.

The Soloman Islands at the time when the total population of the capital of the Soloman Islands was 8. The last report I heard is 20,000. What this does to nature, you can imagine.

Ernst Mayr has been universally acknowledged as the leading evolutionary biologist of the twentieth century. He earned his Ph.D. in ornithology at the age of 21 from the University of Berlin in 1926. During his tenure at the Berlin Museum, from 1926 to 1930, Mayr led ornithological expeditions to Dutch New Guinea and German Mandated New Guinea. In 1931, he was hired by the American Museum of Natural History, Department of Ornithology. During his 20-year AMNH tenure, Dr. Mayr described 26 new bird species and 410 subspecies, more than any other living avian systematist.

In 1953, Mayr became Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and served as Director of the Museum (1961-1970). He has published hundreds of papers and eight books, including Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942), which became a landmark of evolutionary biology.

Mayr has been honored with more than 25 major scientific awards and honors and many honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Science (1970), the Balzan Prize in Biology (1983) and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1999) with John Maynard Smith and George C. Williams "for their fundamental contributions to the conceptual development of evolutionary biology."

In 1995, Harvard’s Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology was rededicated as the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Mayr has been a longtime friend and mentor to Jim Watson.