English naturalist Charles Darwin is best known for his theory of evolution by natural selection described in his 1859 book, On the Origin of Species. His seminal work is the foundation of modern evolutionary theory.
Born to a family of privilege in Shrewsbury, England, Darwin declined careers in medicine or the ministry to pursue his true passion. Upon the recommendation of his botany professor, John Stevens Henslow, Darwin was invited to serve as the naturalist on the five-year voyage of the HMS Beagle to chart the coast of South America. This voyage would forever change our understanding of the natural world. The young Darwin proved to be a keen observer, collecting specimens and taking meticulous notes on the geology, fossils, and biogeography of the odd new flora and fauna encountered. His observations of similarities and subtle variations between closely-related species, especially finches endemic to the Galápagos Islands, led to his idea of common descent with modification, better known as natural selection.
Darwin’s ideas were contrary to the 19th century’s conventional beliefs. These ideas sparked controversy as they challenged and revolutionized the paradigms of the natural world in his time. In the end, Darwin was regarded as a national hero, and was buried in Westminster Abbey following his death in 1882. Darwin’s views of evolution and adaptation have become the unifying theory of the life sciences, and they continue to drive natural resource management today in the face of contemporary conservation challenges that require comprehensive solutions.
"I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free."