Geologica Belgica

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Gregg F. Gunnell

Biogeography and the legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace

(volume 16 (2013) — number 4 - Dispersal of continental vertebrates during the Paleogene)
Open Access

Attached document(s)


Mots-clés : evolution, Vertebrates, Darwin, Galapagos, Indonesia, Islands, Madagascar, Lemurs


Biogeography is the study of life on Earth – what kinds exist, what they look like and where they are found. Starting with the Age of Discovery in the 15th century it became clear to early explorers that plants and animals differed from place to place and that certain distribution patterns typified certain areas of the planet. Two Europeans who took part in global exploration in the 1800’s were Charles Darwin who sailed around the world on the Beagle (1831-1836) and Alfred Russel Wallace who explored South America and Oceanic Asia (1848-1862). Through observation of the kinds and distribution of animals on islands, Darwin (Galapagos) and Wallace (Indonesia) both arrived at the notion of natural selection as the force behind evolution. Biogeographic puzzles still intrigue evolutionary biologists today.  How do species reach remote places (how did lemurs get to Madagascar or platyrrhine monkeys to South America)? How does isolation drive evolution to produce the wondrous array of biodiversity found on islands and what are the underlying mechanisms? Biogeography is at the heart of nearly every major evolutionary event ever recorded in the history of the Earth and it is nearly impossible to understand those events without its appreciation.

To cite this article

Gregg F. Gunnell, «Biogeography and the legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace», Geologica Belgica [En ligne], volume 16 (2013), number 4 - Dispersal of continental vertebrates during the Paleogene, 211-216 URL :

About: Gregg F. Gunnell

Division of Fossil Primates, Duke University Lemur Center, Durham, North Carolina 27705, USA. E-mail: