Het mysterie der mysteriën
Over evolutie en vooruitgang
Speciation – the evolution of new species
What are biological species? Why are there tens of millions of species on earth and not one million or a couple of thousand? Was Darwin right that adaptations come about through the effect of natural selection? How does a species split into two new ones? Is this phenomenon, the central theme in the theory of evolution, one which Darwin referred to as the mystery of mysteries, still unsolved? Is there one single origin of species or are they created in various ways? How different is different?
Evolutionary biologists wrestle with all these questions and have written books on the subject, but mostly for a select company of biology freaks, not for the layman. The man in the street wants answers to questions like: is it true that life just came into being at one point and that the tens of millions of species of bacteria, plants, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that now populate the earth ultimately originated from one monocellular ancestral species? Or, why there are many millions of species of insects, but only a few hundred primate species? Do insects divide more easily into new species?
This interested layman will turn, disappointed, to one of the books for a broader public, where he will be disappointed yet again; he has long been familiar with the general knowledge and orthodox standpoints to which the science-writers restrict themselves in these publications. He will also be irritated by the avoidance of difficult issues which leaves him still unable to fathom what is really going on. Schilthuizen’s Frogs, Flies and Dandelions is not only suitable for the practising nature conservationist, it is tailor-made for the keen layman.
Schilthuizen need not skirt difficult issues, as he is able to explain them so clearly. He doesn’t just summarise other people’s work; he has an outspoken, unorthodox vision, which goes against the predominant gospel the great evolutionary biologist, Ernst Mayr, has evangelised for more than half a century. Schilthuizen contests Mayr’s ideas on the basis of dozens of enlightening examples. He informs, stimulates, provokes, irritates, but more than anything, he inspires.