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Darwin and Evolution On Earth, there literally exists millions of organisms of every size, shape and habitat. The questions at hand are…How did all these organisms get to be here in the first place? How are these organisms related? What makes life what it is? The scientific branch that attempts to explain these questions by using collections of facts, observations and hypotheses is known collectively as EVOLUTIONARY THEORY. Evolutionary theory tries to explain the change in organisms over time and how modern organisms descended from ancient organisms. The Voyage of the HMS Beagle The individual who perhaps made the most contributions to the field of evolution was CHARLES DARWIN. Charles Darwin was born in England in 1809, and after completing his college studies, he set aboard the HMS Beagle, an English royal navy ship, as a map maker hired to plot the coast line of South America. Although he did not know at that time, Darwin would soon become one of the most influential names in the world of science. Whenever the HMS Beagle anchored, Darwin went ashore to collect plant and animal specimens, which he added to an ever-growing collection. Each piece that Darwin collected along the way served as a “puzzle piece” in his ever-growing curiosity about this strange new world. Darwin, being very curious about the world around him, made many observations of what he saw in South America, a new land that he had never seen. Darwin, wrote down his observations, as well as made many sketches of what he saw. His information gathered on his trip would soon serve as a basis for the theory of evolution. What Darwin Saw… Back in England, Darwin was very knowledgeable about the nature of his country. But in South America, he saw far more diverse species that he had never seen before. Patterns of Diversity When looking at the new and diverse species he stumbled across, he noticed how well many of these species were adapted to the environment in which they were living. He was also impressed in how many of these species reproduced and produced offspring, many in which he had never seen or heard about before. In front of him, a new view on how nature works was beginning to unfold. He was also puzzled by where different species lived and did not live. In his travels, Darwin visited Argentina in South America and Australia, which both have similar ecosystems, yet both ecosystems were inhabited by very different animals. This confused Darwin because he thought that similar ecosystems should have similar animals…which in this case, it didn’t. He asked himself why there were rabbits in the grasslands of Europe but not in the grasslands of Australia, which Darwin thought would also be a perfect place for rabbits. At the same time, why were there Kangaroos in Australia but not Europe? Living Organisms and Fossils… Darwin soon realized that the living organisms that he saw were only half of the puzzle. In many places on his voyage, Darwin came across many FOSSILS of organisms that didn’t look like any of the living organisms in the area. This posed even more questions, like, “Where did these species come from?” and “Where did these species go if they’re no longer here?” The Galapagos Islands Of all the places in which the HMS Beagle anchored at, the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of modern-day Ecuador, influenced Darwin the most. What Darwin noticed about these islands was that although they were closely packed together, each island had a different climate with different geological characteristics. Some were low elevation and dry while some others had large volcanoes and were very wet. On these islands, Darwin encountered a small brown species of bird called a finch. Each island within the Galapagos chain had a unique version of this finch. Some islands with an abundance of insects had finches with long, slender beaks, whereas some islands, which had an abundance of fruit and nuts, had finches with large beaks, designed to break open large seeds. Darwin found this odd, that a species that lived in such a close proximity, had such a diverse physical characteristics. It wasn’t until later, that the importance of these tiny birds would be noticed. The Journey Home On his way home back to England, Darwin pondered his results and observations, especially the ones about the tiny little finches on the Galapagos. Darwin began to wonder if animals living on different islands had once been members of the same species long ago. Darwin hypothesized that these separate species evolved from a common South American ancestor, which later became isolated and were forced to change to meet their environmental demands. He thought, that if this hypothesis was possible, it would change the world’s views of the natural world.