A first-hand account of how a modest moth demonstrated Darwin's theory of natural selection.
The extraordinary tale of the humble peppered moth is at the very foundation of our acceptance of Darwinian evolution. When scientists in the early twentieth century discovered that a British population of the small, speckled Biston betularia had become black over the course of mere decades in response to the Industrial Revolution's encroaching soot, the revelation cemented Darwin's theory of natural selection. This finding was the staple example of "evolution in action" until the turn of the millennium when proponents of Creationism fomented doubts about the legitimacy of early experiments. In the midst of this upheaval, evolutionary biologist Bruce S. Grant and his contemporaries were determinedly building a dataset that would ultimately vindicate the theory of industrial melanism in the peppered moth and, by extension, the theory of natural selection itself. Observing Evolution tells the remarkable story of this work.
Shining a light on the efforts of scientists who tested Darwin's trailblazing theory, Grant chronicles the historical foundations of peppered moth research, then explains how he and his collaborators were able to push this famous study forward. He describes how his experiments were designed and conducted while painting a vivid picture of the personalities, events, and adventures around the world that shaped his successes – and struggles. His story culminates with his discovery of the mirrored "rise and fall" of melanism in peppered moth populations separated by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, which settled the intense controversy around evolution by documenting nature's recurring experiment.
Observing Evolution is a crash course in natural selection and the history of evolutionary biology for anyone interested in Darwin's legacy. It's also a fascinating read for lepidopterists and scientists about the bridge between classic experiments and today's sophisticated DNA sequencing, which reveals in ever greater detail how the lives of these tiny organisms have such enormous implications.
1. Passing the Baton
2. Peppered Moths 101
3. Catching Moths Using Light Traps
5. The Rest-Site Selection Controversy
6. A Feeling for the Organism
7. Elizabethan Moths
8. Non-Random Rest-Site Selection in Captivity
9. Life at Mountain Lake
10. Travel Arrangements
11. Wirral Welcome
12. Coffee with the Clarkes
13. Clockwork Orange
14. Surface Reflectance
15. How to Pick Up a Moth
16. The Birch Moth
17. Cultural Assimilation
19. Long Season's End
20. Yankees Go Home
21. From Field to Lab
22. The Talk
23. The Grand Pub
24. Summer School
29. Around Town
30. In The Field
32. Fisheries Lab
36. East Meets West
38. Allelic Melanism
39. Conspecific Pheromones
40. Howard Hughes Lecture
41. Mr. Parallel Evolution
43. Edwin S. George Reserve
44. Farewell and Welcome
46. Round Two
48. New York Times
49. Expanding Views
Bruce S. Grant is an Emeritus Professor of biology at the College of William & Mary.
"Engrossing, amusing, and endlessly fascinating, Bruce Grant's account of his decades-long exploration of a key piece of evidence of evolution by natural selection is a gem. Grant reveals how science works both as a process and as a profoundly personal activity. Observing Evolution will become a classic."
– Matthew Cobb, University of Manchester, author of Life's Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code
"Grant is a renowned scholar who greatly pushed evolutionary biology research forward. There is no one else alive who could have written this book."
– Mohamed A. F. Noor, Duke University, author of Live Long and Evolve: What Star Trek Can Teach Us about Evolution, Genetics, and Life on Other Worlds
"Bruce Grant is a marvelous writer. This book will inform and entertain a diverse audience and, in the process, educate them about the joys and rewards of doing and living science. An adventure story that brings the reader along for the ride and introduces them to some of the most distinguished biologists of modern times, this book is also a mystery that scientifically probes and tests every bit of evidence that is available."
– Justin O. Schmidt, Southwest Biological Institute, author of The Sting of the Wild
"I greatly enjoyed this book. It is written as well as the very best thrillers yet communicates how science works in a beautiful and informative way. This is first-class public science communication about a very interesting phenomenon."
– John A. Endler, Deakin University, author of Natural Selection in the Wild
"Bruce Grant has written a wonderful book that is at once both deeply personal and unerringly scientific. Part memoir, part history of science, and part detective story, Observing Evolution reminds us that under even the most familiar of scientific tales lurk unexpected new truths."
– Naomi E. Pierce, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology