150 years ago, the British naturalist Charles Darwin, one of the greatest and most influential thinkers in contemporary history, published The Origin of Man, a book where he reinforces the ideas that he had embodied in his theory of evolution, in 1859.
Darwin argued that organisms evolved through a process called “natural selection,” often known as survival of the fittest. Although at the time his work generated controversy because it contradicted the biblical account of creation, today it is widely accepted by the scientific community.
However, during his research process Darwin raised a number of theories. And these are some of the most fascinating that have been confirmed by scientists in recent years.
When did the flowering plants emerge
The origin of plants was one of the issues that puzzled Charles Darwin, who described it as an “abominable mystery.” Even 140 years after he outlined his riddle, the debate has remained central among scientists.
Flowering plants are the most abundant and diverse group in modern ecosystems (they outnumber ferns and gymnosperms). The fossil records showed rapid spread, in what could be “the most extreme exception” of his theory of evolution, which advocates slow changes.
The pattern of flowering plants was established during the last 80 to 100 million years. However, more recent analyzes confirmed that these existed as many as 100 million before they became dominant, even during the Jurassic.
Why some insects stop flying
Although most insects can fly, dozens of species have lost that extraordinary ability, such as on islands near Antarctica or Australia, where flies walk and moths crawl.
Darwin and botanist Joseph Hooker had a discussion about why this happens. According to Darwin, if they flew, they were thrown into the sea. So they chose to stay on the ground and evolution would do the rest.
Although many scientists claimed that the naturalist was wrong, a study by Monash University argued that in the subantarctic islands, considered among the windiest places on Earth, the theory is the only one that allows to explain the phenomenon.
According to the researchers, windy conditions make flight for insects more difficult and energetically expensive, so they stop investing in this task and its expensive underlying machinery (wings, wing muscles), and redirect resources to the reproduction.
Mammals, keys to evolution
A species is a group of animals that can freely interbreed with each other. Some have subspecies, which are differentiated by particular physical traits and their own breeding ranges.
According to the University of Cambridge, which analyzed data collected by naturalists over hundreds of years, mammalian subspecies play a larger role in evolution than previously thought.
Darwin argued that animals with more species must also have more subspecies. And that the latter played a critical role in long-term evolutionary dynamics and future evolution, a theory that was proven by research published in 2020.
Northern giraffes have three subspecies, while red foxes have the largest number of subspecies – 45 known varieties – around the world. Humans, on the other hand, do not have subspecies.