November 14, 2008


The vindication of Charles Darwin's evolutionary work by a California Academy of Sciences expedition is the focus of a talk to be presented at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 19 at College of Marin's OIney Hall.

Sonoma State University Paleontology Professor Matt James will discuss "Collecting Evolution: The Untold Story of the Vindication of Charles Darwin by the 1905-06 Galapagos Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences."

James says "The enduring legacy of the 1905-06 expedition encompasses much of what we know about Galapagos today, including giant tortoise taxonomy, David Lack's concept of "Darwin's Finches," plant zonation from coast to highlands, and many other natural history facts in ecotourism guide books and television programs on the islands."

"This knowledge stems from the men who explored and collected under difficult and dangerous conditions, and who have allowed us to better understand what has become known as Darwin's living outdoor laboratory of evolution," he says.

Today, the specimens collected 70 years after Darwin in 1905-06 are available in San Francisco and are used in evolutionary studies involving DNA samples, conservation efforts involving restoring plant and animal populations, and taxonomy and biogeography studies that examine how species distributions have changed over time.

For 17 months, from June 1905 to November 1906, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco sent out an expedition of eight young men in the 89-foot schooner Academy.

The expedition took three months to reach the Galapagos, having stopped at a series of Mexican islands and Isla Cocos on the way south, then spent a year and a day collecting on all the major and minor islands in the Galapagos, and returned home non-stop by sailing for two months.

During this expedition, the longest in Galapagos expedition history, some 75,000 specimens were collected. These well-curated specimens today form an important historical baseline for present conservation efforts by the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service.

Species that were common 100 years ago might be rare or endangered today, such as the Mangrove Finch, Flightless Cormorant, and Galapagos Penguin.

A key to the success of the 1905-06 expedition was that each of the eight young men had their own scientific collecting specialty: birds, reptiles, plants, insects, fossils, rocks, mammals, and seashells.

During the 05-06 expedition there was a series of "firsts" for Galapagos: the first sighting of tool use by the Woodpecker Finch, the first (and only) tortoise from Fernandina Island, and the naming of Academy Bay (named for the schooner, not the museum of the same name).

The connection to Charles Darwin was strong then as now. Why Darwin sailed on HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836 might surprise even Galapagos aficionados - it is a story of suicide, kidnapping, and pedophilia that is unfamiliar to many who are familiar with the islands.

For further information, contact Professor Matthew James, (707) 664-2301.

NOTE: A digital photo of the Academy's crew is available upon request.

Jean Wasp
Media Relations Coordinator
University Affairs
(707) 664-2057