Albert Wallace’s wildlife map was groundbreaking
CHARLES DARWIN is generally acknowledged as the person who first put forward what subsequently proved to be an acceptable scientific explanation for the great variety of life forms found on Earth. Darwin made an outstanding contribution as a result of his global travels, his many years of painstaking research and his deep thinking.
Amazingly, as Darwin was perfecting his groundbreaking ideas about the origin of species by natural selection Alfred Russell Wallace, another British naturalist, was independently arriving at much the same conclusions from a somewhat different perspective.
Since the sixteenth century seafarers noted that different animals were found in different parts of the world. Elephants were found in Africa and Asia but not in South America; Polar Bears occurred in the Arctic but not the Antarctic; penguins were quite the opposite. Kangaroos were unique to Australia. These things were known and noted but not explained.
Wallace travelled extensively in the Amazon basin, south-east Asia and Australia and became the leading authority of his time on the global distribution of biodiversity. He identified what became known after him as ' the Wallace Line', a line through the East Indies that separated two very different assemblages of animals. For example, the islands of Bali and Lombok lie a mere 35km apart yet they support very different types of birds.
Wallace independently arrived at the concept of evolution from his studies and published a paper jointly with Darwin in 1858. He first drew his nowfamous line in 1859 and published the first map of the biogeographical realms of the world in 1876. Since then his map has been the subject of much study.
Twenty years ago an international team of scientists based at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark set about revising, amending and updating Wallace's map. More than 15 international researchers were involved and more than 20,000 species of mammals, birds and amphibians were examined in detail. And now, 136 years after Wallace produced the first map his work has been updated incorporating the latest technological advances in DNA-sequencing.
Published online in the journal Science, the updated Wallace map may be accessed on Google Earth via http://macroecology.ku.dk/resources/wallace. The updated and amended version comes 136 years after Wallace's original version. However, version two is by no means definitive as the distribution of plants and animals is currently facing significant change and blurring due to global warming, climate change and the worldwide spread of invasive species.
Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913), originator of a famous wildlife map.