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Observing Evolution

Peppered Moths and the Discovery of Parallel Melanism

Bruce S. Grant

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A firsthand account of how a modest moth demonstrated Darwin's theory of natural selection.

The extraordinary tale of the humble peppered moth is at the very foundation of our acceptance of Darwinian evolution. When scientists in the early twentieth century discovered that a British population of the small, speckled Biston betularia had become black over the course of mere decades in response to the Industrial Revolution's encroaching soot, the revelation cemented Darwin's theory of natural selection. This finding was the staple example of "evolution in action" until the turn of the millennium…

A firsthand account of how a modest moth demonstrated Darwin's theory of natural selection.

The extraordinary tale of the humble peppered moth is at the very foundation of our acceptance of Darwinian evolution. When scientists in the early twentieth century discovered that a British population of the small, speckled Biston betularia had become black over the course of mere decades in response to the Industrial Revolution's encroaching soot, the revelation cemented Darwin's theory of natural selection. This finding was the staple example of "evolution in action" until the turn of the millennium, when proponents of Creationism fomented doubts about the legitimacy of early experiments. In the midst of this upheaval, evolutionary biologist Bruce S. Grant and his contemporaries were determinedly building a dataset that would ultimately vindicate the theory of industrial melanism in the peppered moth and, by extension, the theory of natural selection itself. Observing Evolution tells the remarkable story of this work.

Shining a light on the efforts of scientists who tested Darwin's trailblazing theory, Grant chronicles the historical foundations of peppered moth research, then explains how he and his collaborators were able to push this famous study forward. He describes how his experiments were designed and conducted while painting a vivid picture of the personalities, events, and adventures around the world that shaped his successes—and struggles. His story culminates with his discovery of the mirrored "rise and fall" of melanism in peppered moth populations separated by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, which settled the intense controversy around evolution by documenting nature's recurring experiment.

Observing Evolution is a crash course in natural selection and the history of evolutionary biology for anyone interested in Darwin's legacy. It's also a fascinating read for lepidopterists and scientists about the bridge between classic experiments and today's sophisticated DNA sequencing, which reveals in ever greater detail how the lives of these tiny organisms have such enormous implications.

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Observing Evolution

Bruce S. Grant

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Reviews

Highly recommended.

Grant's writing is accessible, his explanations of complex science easily digestible, and he is full of genuinely amusing stories. If you ever doubted the validity of this iconic example of rapid evolution, Observing Evolution will set you straight.

For others who simply enjoy a good scientific detective story, this is among the best.

In this engaging book, Grant documents the places he went and the extraordinary people he met, on this quest to understand parts of the peppered moth story that did not quite add up.

Highly recommended for all biology students, especially those interested in entomology and evolutionary biology...It's a real treat to read about some of the giants of entomological research.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
320
ISBN
9781421441658
Illustration Description
22 b&w photos, 7 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Part I
1. Passing the Baton
2. Peppered Moths 101
3. Catching Moths Using Light Traps
4. Camouflage
5. The Rest-Site Selection Controversy
6. A Feeling for the Organism
7. Elizabethan

Preface
Acknowledgments
Part I
1. Passing the Baton
2. Peppered Moths 101
3. Catching Moths Using Light Traps
4. Camouflage
5. The Rest-Site Selection Controversy
6. A Feeling for the Organism
7. Elizabethan Moths
8. Non-Random Rest-Site Selection in Captivity
9. Life at Mountain Lake
10. Travel Arrangements
Part II
11. Wirral Welcome
12. Coffee with the Clarkes
13. Clockwork Orange
14. Surface Reflectance
15. How to Pick Up a Moth
16. The Birch Moth
17. Cultural Assimilation
18. Caterpillars
19. Long Season's End
20. Yankees Go Home
Part III
21. From Field to Lab
22. The Talk
23. The Grand Pub
Part IV
24. Summer School
25. Coauthors
Part V
26. Nihongo
27. Gaijin
28. Reception
29. Around Town
30. In The Field
31. Tajima
32. Fisheries Lab
33. Hokkaido
34. Tourists
35. Nagano
36. East Meets West
Part VI
37. Serendipity
38. Allelic Melanism
39. Conspecific Pheromones
40. Howard Hughes Lecture
41. Mr. Parallel Evolution
42. Aerogrammes
43. Edwin S. George Reserve
44. Farewell and Welcome
45. Nature
46. Round Two
47. Oxfordshire
48. New York Times
49. Expanding Views
50. Epilogue
Bibliography

Author Bio
Bruce S. Grant
Featured Contributor

Bruce S. Grant

Bruce S. Grant is Emeritus Professor of biology at the College of William & Mary.