ASN Presidential Address: “The snail’s charm”

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Kathleen Donohue (Feb 2019)

The DOI will be https://dx.doi.org/10.1086/700960

The American Naturalist celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017. It was founded as a journal of natural history “in which we shall endeavor to meet the wants of all lovers of nature.” Beginning as a platform to present acute observations of nature in all of its forms, the journal developed into an important vehicle of the “Evolutionary Synthesis”—a major intellectual achievement of the 20th century that integrated the study of evolution, genetics, and ecological context. During the early years of the journal through much of the 20th century, evolutionary theory was developed to explain the history of nature, before humankind existed to alter it—when time was expansive, and uncommon events, though rare, were frequent enough to effect evolutionary change. Today, with the influence of human activity, dispersal patterns are fundamentally altered, genetic variation is locally limiting in small and fragmented populations, and environments are changing so rapidly that time itself seems limited. How can we use this theory that was built to explain the past, and that depends on an excess of chances and time, to address the challenges of the present and the future when chances are fewer and time seems so short? And, does the habit of naturalists to observe, describe, and cultivate a fascination with nature have any place in the urgent, problem-solving agenda of contemporary science?


Abstract

In 2017, The American Naturalist celebrated its 150th anniversary. It was founded as a journal of natural history, yet it developed into an important vehicle of the Evolutionary Synthesis. During the early years of the journal through much of the 20th century, evolutionary theory was developed to explain the history of nature, before humankind existed to alter it—when time was expansive, and uncommon events, though rare, were frequent enough to effect evolutionary change. Today, with the influence of human activity, dispersal patterns are fundamentally altered, genetic variation is locally limiting in small and fragmented populations, and environments are changing so rapidly that time itself seems limited. How can we use this theory that was built to explain the past, and that depends on an excess of chances and time, to address the challenges of the present and the future when chances are fewer and time seems so short? And, does the habit of naturalists to observe, describe, and cultivate a fascination with nature have any place in contemporary science?