Ernst Walter Mayr, more commonly known as Ernst Mayr, was a German-born American who made decisive and groundbreaking contributions to avian taxonomy, evolution and population genetics. Widely credited as the world’s greatest evolutionary biologist in history, Mayr was fondly called the “Darwin of the 20th century”.
Early Life and Education:
Born in Kempten, Germany on July 5, 1904 to a jurist father, Ernst Mayr showed an early interest in ornithology. His father died when he was just 13. He attended the University of Greifswald in 1923. Mayr acquired his doctorate in ornithology from the University of Berlin in 1926; he was only 21 years old.
Contributions and Achievements:
Mayr stayed at the university to lead expeditions to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, where he explored the variations among animals and plants on different islands. He joined the American Museum of Natural History, New York as a curator in 1932, where he wrote over 100 journal articles on the subject of bird taxonomy.
He published his famous book “Systematics and the Origin of Species” in 1942, which heavily contributed to population genetics and the evolutionary synthesis. He favored the Darwin’s evolution by natural selection rather than than Gosse’s divine creation.
Ernst Mayr approached the concept of species by saying that a species is not merely a group of morphologically closer individuals, but a group that breeds only among themselves, excluding all others. The theory of peripatric speciation by Mayr is considered a major mode of speciation in ornithology.
Later Life and Death:
In 1953 Mayr became Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University, retiring in 1979 as professor emeritus. He died in Bedford, Massachusetts on February 3, 2005. He was 100 years old.