Last year we celebrated the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the “On the Origin of Species”. In addition to celebrations of the Darwin’s work, many articles in the media explored the contribution of other scientists and naturalists to the discovery of the theory of natural selection, perhaps none more so that Alfred Wallace. In fact, a book published by Roy Davis went even further, arguing that Wallace that has a greater claim to the theory of natural selection than Darwin.
However, as geographers, the importance of Wallace goes much further than simply his contributions to the theory of natural selection (as important as they are).
In an new article published in Geography Compass, Charles Smith explores the wider contributions that Wallace made to physical geography (and possibly even human geography…), principally in the field of biogeography, but also through his work in geomorphology and glaciology.
Wallace, based on his observations and collections (one of his major expeditions to Indonesia was funded by the Royal Geographical Society) made important contributions to understanding of the distribution of species, identifying what would become known as the Wallace Line, a boundary between faunal regions Asia and Australasia. His later publications explored the distribution of animals and the possible reasons for these patterns, and also the wider issue of why there are more species in the tropical regions than the high latitudes; an issue which is still the focus of much biogeographic research.
As Smith makes clear, we should look beyond Wallace as simply the “forgotten man” in the discovery of evolution, and recognize him as one of the great founders of wider geographical research.