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Ernst Mayr

Ernst MayrAKA Ernst Walter Mayr

Born: 5-Jul-1904
Birthplace: Kempten, Germany
Died: 3-Feb-2005
Location of death: Bedford, MA
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Biologist, Naturalist
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Evolutionary biologist

In his 1942 treatise Systematics and the Origin of Species, American biologist and naturalist Ernst Mayr formulated the modern concept of biological species as a group that can interbreed only amongst themselves. His work crossed scientific disciplines from ornithology to systematics to zoogeography, and was fundamental to the 20th century reconciliation of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection and Gregor Mendel's theory of heredity. He also explained the concept of allopatric speciation, wherein a single species isolated in two (or more) geographical areas evolves distinct characteristics, eventually becoming distinct and separate species.

Mayr wrote extensively on the philosophy and history of biology as a science, and authored more than 700 articles and numerous books. He named 26 new species of birds and dozens of species of orchids, and was a key influence on biophysicist and physiologist Jared Diamond. Mayr retired in 1975, but continued his research and writing for decades. His first scientific paper was published in 1923, and his last book came out in 2005, when he was 100 years of age, just months before his death.


[1] Born into a Protestant family.

Father: Otto Mayr (attorney/jurist, b. 23-Jul-1867, d. 1-Jul-1917)
Mother: Helene Pusinelli (b. 22-Jul-1870, d. 31-May-1952)
Brother: Otto (b. 1901, d. 1985)
Brother: Hans (b. 1906, d. 1954)
Wife: Margarete Simon ("Gretel", m. 4-May-1935, d. 1990, two daughters)
Daughter: Christa Elizabeth Menzel
Daughter: Susanne Harrison

    University: BS Biology, University of Greifswald (1925)
    University: PhD Zoology, University of Berlin (1926)
    Scholar: Zoology, University of Berlin (1926-32)
    Professor: Louis Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Harvard University (1953-75)

    Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology Director (1961-70)
    American Museum of Natural History Curator of Birds (1944-53)
    American Museum of Natural History Associate Curator of Birds (1932-44)
    American Museum of Natural History Research Associate in Ornithology (1931-32)
    ANS Joseph Leidy Medal 1946
    LSL Wallace Darwin Medal 1958
    AOU William Brewster Medal 1965
    National Medal of Science 1970
    Balzan Prize 1983
    Darwin Medal 1984
    Japan Prize 1994
    Benjamin Franklin Medal 1995 (awarded by the Franklin Institute)
    Crafoord Prize 1999
    Academy of Achievement 2001
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Ornithologists' Union Vice President, 1953-56
    American Ornithologists' Union President, 1956-59
    American Philosophical Society
    American Society of Naturalists President, 1962-63
    American Society of Zoologists
    Linnean Society of London
    National Academy of Sciences
    New York Zoological Society
    Society for the Study of Evolution Secretary, 1946
    Society for the Study of Evolution President, 1950
    Zoological Society of London
    Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
    Bavarian Ancestry
    German Ancestry
    Naturalized US Citizen 1931

Author of books:
List of New Guinea Birds (1941)
Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942)
Birds of Paradise (1945)
Birds of the Southwest Pacific (1945)
Birds of the Philippines (1946, with Jean Delacour)
Methods and Principles of Systemic Zoology (1963, with E. G. Linsley and R. L. Usinger)
Animal Species and Evolution (1963, zoology)
Evolution and the Diversity of Life (1976)
The Growth of Biological Thought (1982)
Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of An Evolutionist (1988)
One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought (1991)
This is Biology: The Science of the Living World (1997)
The Birds of Northern Melanesia (2001, with Jared Diamond)
What Evolution Is (2001)
What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline (2004)


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