by Greg Mayer
We’ve already posted some things to read by and about Alfred Russel Wallace in honor of Wallace Year, including a list by me and a recent list by fellow Wallace-ophile Andrew Berry. There’s another item that I can recommend to WEIT readers, which I had known about and forgotten to mention, but Matthew has kindly reminded me of it: the Journal of Zoology has published a “virtual issue” of a number of Wallace’s papers.
The issue consists of 10 articles, by Wallace or scientists working on his collections, originally published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (later renamed the Journal of Zoology). The papers are technical– species descriptions, faunal lists– rather than synthetic statements of Wallace’s views. But papers such as these are the building blocks out of which Wallace constructed his zoogeographical and evolutionary theories. The article on Wallace’s search for the bird of paradise, a delightful scientific travelogue in the style of The Malay Archipelago, is perhaps the most entertaining of the collection.
The picture above is from an account of the mammals of the Aru Islands, including descriptions of new forms, by the famous zoologist J.E. Gray, based on Wallace’s collections. In this paper, Gray named and described the striped possum, not only erecting a new species for it, but a new genus as well. The Aru Islands * lie on the great Sahul Shelf which connects New Guinea and Australia, and it is thus not surprising that striped possums were later found in New Guinea and Queensland, as all these were connected by dry land during Quaternary glacial periods. The striped possum (a marsupial, of course) is thus a nice building block for the general conclusion that the fauna of the Aru Islands is of Australian affinity, and that former land connections are of great importance in understanding the distribution of animals, especially mammals.
There are many fine plates, like the one above, in these 10 articles. I’m not sure how long Wiley (the current printer for the Zoological Society of London) will maintain open access at its site, but the articles are all out of copyright, and most or all are freely available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (direct link to the Proceedings here), and of course also at Wallace Online and The Alfred Russel Wallace Page.
* This link is to a nice paper comparing Wallace’s visit to Aru today.