Darwin Charles Robert

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, Charles Robert 1809-1882.
British naturalist who revolutionized the study of biology with his theory of evolution based on natural selection. His most famous works include On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871).

Dar·win′i·an adj. & n.


(där′wĭn), Charles Robert 1809-1882.
British naturalist who proposed the theory of evolution based on natural selection (1859). Darwin's theory, that random variation of traits within an individual species can lead to the development of new species, revolutionized the study of biology.
Biography During his years as a naturalist at sea on the HMS Beagle (1831-1836), Charles Darwin observed many new and wondrous things. But the part of the voyage that would change science forever took place in September 1835, when the Beagle reached the Galápagos Archipelago, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean 650 miles west of Ecuador. Noting that the organisms there were isolated in a unique environment, Darwin wrote, "this archipelago ... seems to be a little world within itself, the greater number of its inhabitants, both vegetable and animal, being found nowhere else." He observed 26 species of birds (only one of which was known to exist anywhere else), giant tortoises, and other fascinating reptiles. What startled Darwin was the fact that each species was uniquely adapted to the particular island on which it lived. This observation prompted him to ask the questions that became the basis of his theory of evolution, questions he would spend the rest of his life trying to answer. When he returned to England, Darwin refined his notes and continued to make scientific observations, this time of his own garden and the animals his family kept. After 23 years of sustained work, he published his theory in The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.