Ernst Mayr

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Mayr, Ernst

(ĕrnst mīr), 1904–2005, American zoologist and author, b. Kempten, Germany. He began his career in Berlin and emigrated to the United States in 1931, where, until 1953, he was associated with the American Museum of Natural History in New York. From 1953 to 1975 he was professor of zoology at Harvard. In 1940, Mayr refined the definition of the term species to "groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations which are reproductively isolated from other such groups." Along with Theodosius DobzhanskyDobzhansky, Theodosius
, 1900–1975, American geneticist, b. Russia, grad. Univ. of Kiev, 1921. He emigrated to the United States in 1927 and was naturalized in 1937.
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 and George Gaylord SimpsonSimpson, George Gaylord,
1902–84, American paleontologist and zoologist, b. Chicago, Ph.D. Yale, 1926. He became assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 1927.
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, he helped formulate the synthetic theory of evolutionevolution,
concept that embodies the belief that existing animals and plants developed by a process of gradual, continuous change from previously existing forms. This theory, also known as descent with modification, constitutes organic evolution.
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, putting together the theories of Charles DarwinDarwin, Charles Robert,
1809–82, English naturalist, b. Shrewsbury; grandson of Erasmus Darwin and of Josiah Wedgwood. He firmly established the theory of organic evolution known as Darwinism.
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 and the genetic principles of Gregor MendelMendel, Gregor Johann
, 1822–84, Austrian monk noted for his experimental work on heredity. He entered the Augustinian monastery in Brno in 1843, taught at a local secondary school, and carried out independent scientific investigations on garden peas and other plants until
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. Mayr was also a noted ornithologist and a pioneer in the study of the history and philosophy of biology. His books include Animal Species and Evolution (1963), The Growth of Biological Thought (1982), Principles of Systematic Zoology (1980), This Is Biology (1997), and What Evolution Is (2001).
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Mayr, Ernst


Born July 5, 1904, in Kempten, Germany. American zoologist-taxonomist and evolutionist; member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (1954).

In 1926, upon graduation from Greifswald University, Mayr became an assistant at the zoological museum of Berlin University (now Humboldt University). In 1928-29 he conducted ornithological research in New Guinea. He came to the USA in 1931. He was a staff member of the Museum of Natural History in New York from 1931 to 1953; he has been a professor at Harvard University since 1953; he was director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard from 1961 to 1970.

Mayr’s principal works are on ornithology, zoogeography, the theory of taxonomy, and methods of taxonomic research. His chief works deal with species structure, species formation, and other problems of evolution. He is an advocate of the principle of allopatric species formation. He synthesized present-day progressive (including genetic) notions of evolution, mainly at the species level, in a number of works that have played an important role in the development and dissemination of the latest evolutionary views. He has written considerably on the history and philosophy of biology. He is a member of a number of foreign academies of science and has received honorary doctorates from many universities.


“Change of Genetic Environment and Evolution.” In Evolution as a Process, 2nd ed. London, 1958.
“Cause and Effect in Biology.” Science, 1961, vol. 134, no. 3489.
In Russian translation:
Sistematika i proiskhozhdenie vidov s tochki zreniia zoologa. Moscow, 1947.
Metody i printsipy zoologicheskoi sistematiki. Moscow, 1956. (With E. Linsley and R. Usinger.)
Zoologicheskii vid i evoliutsiia. Moscow, 1968.
Printsipy zoologicheskoi sistematiki. Moscow, 1971.
Populiatsii, vidy i evoliutsiia. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mayr, Ernst (Walter)

(1904–  ) ornithologist, evolutionist; born in Kempten, Germany. He was assistant curator of zoology at the museum of the University of Berlin (1926–32). During 1928–30, wishing to "follow in the footsteps of Darwin," he made three expeditions to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, which led to his demonstrating that the development of separate species in higher animals depends on the geographic isolation of precursor populations. He came to the U.S.A. to be associate curator, then curator, of the Whitney-Rothschild Collection of the American Museum of Natural History (1932–53). His research on avian paleozoology, evolution, and taxonomy resulted in his seminal redefining of the term "species" to describe an interbreeding natural population reproductively isolated from other such groups (1940). He founded the Society for the Study of Evolution (1946) and was the founding editor of the journal Evolution (1949). He relocated to Harvard to become Agassiz professor of zoology (1953–75) and director of Harvard's museum of comparative zoology (1961–70). His philosophical writings on biological evolution emphasize that classification of organisms, unlike descriptive lists of inanimate objects, must be based on their existence as products of evolution. His theory of "peripatetic speciation" states that new species may arise via a few organisms moving beyond their species' range and establishing a new population, which evolves due to environmental differences and inbreeding of genes. After his retirement, his writings emphasized his belief that the future of human evolution depends on education.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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