31st May 2016: Virtual Issues - Linnean Society Meeting at the Arnold Arboretum

Published on 31st May 2016

Virtual Issues Arnold Arboretum

In May 2016 the Linnean Society held its first US-based meeting at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, with a mix of speakers from both the US and the UK. Lecture sessions covered topics such as evolution, biogeography, collections and conservation. The associated Virtual Issues of our 3 Journals are now available online.

Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

Biological Journal

To coincide with the Meeting of the Linnean Society at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 6th-8th May 2016, we have collated a virtual issue of the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society that celebrates some of the many papers we (and our predecessor journal) have published on Charles Darwin, including his ideas and their subsequent development by evolutionary biologists.

In prime position is the momentous manuscript on natural selection co-authored with Alfred Russel Wallace (Darwin and Wallace, 1858) and read in front of the Society before appearing in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London: Zoology. The following year saw the publication of the world-changing book, On the Origin of Species (Darwin 1859). As is well-known, Darwin’s ideas on evolution were stimulated by his experiences while circumnavigating the globe on HMS Beagle, with his observations on the biodiversity of the Galápagos Islands being especially pivotal. A themed issue of the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (Berry 1984) presents 17 original papers exploring the then state-of-the-art evolutionary research in the Galápagos archipelago. The extent to which we have progressed over the past 32 years can be gauged from the paper by Grant and Grant (2016) on gene flow among three species of Geospiza – the so-called ‘finches’ that now bear Darwin’s name.

Darwin’s ideas on natural selection were honed through his observations and thoughts on the process of artificial selection that led to domesticated organisms including many plants as well as dogs, horses, cattle and – especially – fancy breeds of pigeon selectively bred from wild rock doves. Sol (2008) provides evidence for natural selection on pigeons in the reverse direction, in which the phenotype of the feral descendants of domesticated pigeons appears to be converging on that of its wild ancestors.

As its title implies, the concept of ‘species’ was central to the Origin. De Quieroz (2011) traces the timeline of the evolving definitions of ‘species’, starting with Darwin – who saw the category as taxonomically valid – up to the view of the present day which tends to see it as part of the hierarchy of biological organization rather than taxonomic rank. Darwin’s apparent inability to define species precisely has led some to argue that he was thus unable to explain the process of speciation effectively. Mallet (2008) reviews the arguments, pointing out that Darwin’s standpoint of recognizing intermediates between coexisting species is now being confirmed by molecular studies.

Throughout his life Darwin was intrigued by the behaviour of animals, including humans, and Vane-Wright (2014) has edited a themed issue of 11 papers highlighting our current ideas on the role of behaviour in evolution. Of course, it is widely recognized that not all of Darwin’s intellectual energy was spent on developing his evolutionary ideas. For example, he devoted a surprising amount of time to the biology of barnacles, as summarised and extended by Crisp (1983).

The details of how Darwin decided on the content of his 1858 reading to the Linnean Society are examined by Partridge (2015), while Smith (2013) summarizes the controversial and long-running debate in which some suppose that Darwin delayed acknowledgment of the receipt of letters from Alfred Russel Wallace to buy time to plagiarise his ideas on natural selection. We will probably never know the answer to the ‘Darwin controversy’.

Darwin’s output is all the more remarkable given that for much of his life he suffered from undiagnosed ill-health. Although over 40 medical conditions have been suggested, none of them has received widespread acceptance. Campbell and Matthews (2015) now suggest that Darwin was suffering from lactose intolerance (interestingly, a condition that has contributed to our understanding of natural selection). Darwin was also concerned about the possible consequences of inbreeding in his extended family and recent analysis suggests that male fertility was indeed reduced (Alvarez et al., 2015). For a more comprehensive appreciation of Darwin the man, see the special issue edited by Berry (1982) and, for most things Darwin-related, van Wyhe (2002).

John A Allen, Editor, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society

Botanical Journal

The virtual issues of the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society celebrates some of the many papers published in the journal that relate to Linnaeus, Darwin and Wallace.

The Linnean Collections form the basis of the collections of the Linnean Society and their curation and work carried out on them are an important part of the work of the Society and its Fellows. Here, Jarvis (1992) describes the project to typify Linnaean plant names and Cain (1993) analyses the natural and artificial arrangements of plants by Linnaeus. A paper by Wróblewska (2013) represents a final nod to Linnaeus – a study of the plant named for him, Linnaea borealis, commonly known as twinflower.

Darwin and Wallace both published in the journals of the Linnean Society, most famously on evolution and natural selection. However, Darwin’s significance as a botanist is also extremely important, and here we present his 1865 paper on climbing plants and reviews of orchid pollination (Micheneau, Johnson & Fay, 2009), island plants (Carlquist, 2009) and carnivorous plants (Chase et al., 2009), published to celebrate Darwin’s botanical interests on the bicentenary of his birth.

Iles et al. (2015) present a set of fossil monocots for dating analyses of monocots, and Valente et al. (2014) investigate the radiation of Aizoaceae in southern Africa on the basis of a dated phylogenetic tree, a tool not available to Darwin, when he pondered the 'abominable mystery' of the origin of the flowering plants. Buerki, Forest & Alvarez (2014), on the basis of current knowledge of plate tectonics, discuss the possibility that Proto-South East Asia was the 'small isolated continent in the S Hemisphere' that Darwin predicted as 'the birthplace of the higher plants', and Richardson et al. (2014) investigate the role of tectonics, sea-level changes and dispersal in explaining the current distributions of a tribe of Sapotaceae.

Darwin and Wallace were both fascinated by biogeography – Wallace sometimes being called ‘the father of biogeography’ – and the remaining papers focus on aspects of biogeography. In a more historical paper, Steenis (1979) examines the biogeography of east Malesia. Two papers taken from a special issue on islands [Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 174 (3)] focus on islands, a subject loved by Darwin and Wallace. McGlaughlin et al. (2014) study the genetic diversity of plants on the Californian Channel Islands in relation to biogeography and Vargas et al. (2014) study the role of sea dispersal in plant colonisation of the Galápagos Islands.

These papers were chosen to illustrate the wealth of material published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society relating to Linnaeus, Darwin and Wallace. We hope that you enjoy reading them and other papers in the journal.

Michael F Fay, Editor, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society

Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Zoological Journal

This virtual issue of Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society has a long history of publishing papers on systematic and evolutionary zoology, including Darwin and Wallace’s seminal paper On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection.

Over the last century the journal has mirrored developments in Systematic Zoology, first embracing papers employing cladistic techniques, and focusing increasingly on integrative taxonomy as molecular systematics has come to the fore. The selection of papers we present here include morphological systematics of both recent and palaeontological groups, coding characters derived from developmental stages (Blanke et al., 2015; Mallon et al., 2015), electron micrography (Schlüter et al., 2015), and X-ray microtomography (Tissier et al., 2015). Other papers examine diverse and novel characters such as song microstructure (Hertach et al., 2015), hyperspectral reflectance (Wang et al., 2015) and behaviour (Asibuyuk and Quicke, 1999).

Molecular genetics has revolutionized systematics, with many papers now including phylogenetic trees based on partial gene sequences alongside morphological data (Wang et al., 2015; Hertach et al., 2015). Developments in PCR and sequencing techniques have led to ever greater quantities of sequence data, with papers using mitogenomics (Saitoh et al., 2011) or genomic datasets generated from next generation sequencing (Pyron et al., 2016) increasingly common. Analytical techniques have also progressed substantially, particularly in areas such as divergence time estimates and species delimitation. In this virtual issue, we include two papers that estimate clade dates based on molecular data (Saitoh et al., 2011; Pozzi et al., 2015) and two that use coalescent methods to delimit species (Burbrink and Guiher, 2015; Pyron et al., 2016).

The included papers have been selected to highlight the wide diversity of methods that modern systematists use to tackle pertinent questions in systematics and evolution.

Louise Allcock, Editor, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society