Thesis ID: CBB047213503

Evolution Under Our Feet: Anthony David Bradshaw (1926–2008) and the Rise of Ecological Genetics (2015)

unapi

How fast is evolution? In this dissertation I document a profound change that occurred around the middle of the 20th century in the way that ecologists conceptualized the temporal and spatial scales of adaptive evolution, through the lens of British plant ecologist Anthony David Bradshaw (1926–2008). In the early 1960s, one prominent ecologist distinguished what he called “ecological time”—around ten generations—from “evolutionary time”— around half of a million years. For most ecologists working in the first half of the 20th century, evolution by natural selection was indeed a slow and plodding process, tangible in its products but not in its processes, and inconsequential for explaining most ecological phenomena. During the 1960s, however, many ecologists began to see evolution as potentially rapid and observable. Natural selection moved from the distant past—a remote explanans for both extant biological diversity and paleontological phenomena—to a measurable, quantifiable mechanism molding populations in real time. The idea that adaptive evolution could be rapid and highly localized was a significant enabling condition for the emergence of ecological genetics in the second half of the 20th century. Most of what historians know about that conceptual shift and the rise of ecological genetics centers on the work of Oxford zoologist E. B. Ford and his students on polymorphism in Lepidotera, especially industrial melanism in Biston betularia . I argue that ecological genetics in Britain was not the brainchild of an infamous patriarch (Ford), but rather the outgrowth of a long tradition of pastureland research at plant breeding stations in Scotland and Wales, part of a discipline known as “genecology” or “experimental taxonomy.” Bradshaw’s investigative activities between 1948 and 1968 were an outgrowth of the specific brand of plant genecology practiced at the Welsh and Scottish Plant Breeding stations. Bradshaw generated evidence that plant populations with negligible reproductive isolation—separated by just a few meters—could diverge and adapt to contrasting environmental conditions in just a few generations. In Bradshaw’s research one can observe the crystallization of a new concept of rapid adaptive evolution, and the methodological and conceptual transformation of genecology into ecological genetics.

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Authors & Contributors
Taylor, Peter
Abrams, Marshall
Kutschera, Ulrich
Carlson, Charles Royal
Gliboff, Sander Joel
Brandon, Robert N.
Journals
Biology and Philosophy
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology
American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly
Biological Theory
Science and Education
Publishers
MIT Press
The MIT Press
Princeton University Press
Armando
Concepts
Evolution
Biology
Evolutionary developmental biology
Ecology
Genetics
Developmental biology
People
Darwin, Charles Robert
Lorenz, Konrad
Dewey, John
Haeckel, Ernst
Russell, Edward Stuart
Waddington, Conrad Hal
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, early
20th century, late
Places
United States
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