Gould & Eldredge, Punctuated equilibrium comes of age

REVIEW ARTICLE

isolation, differentiation is broken down by recombination. Given reproductive isolation, however, a species can retain its distinctive complex of characters as its spatial distribution changes along with that of its habitat or niche. . . Although speciation does not accelerate evolution within populations, it provides morphological changes with enough permanence to be registered in the fossil record. Thus, it is plausible to expect many evolutionary changes in the fossil record to be associated with speciation." By an extension of the same argument, sequences of speciation are then required for trends: "Each step has had a more than ephemeral existence only because reproductive isolation prevented the slippage consequent on interbreeding with other populations. . . Speciation may facilitate anagenesis by retaining, stepwise, the advances made in any one direction." Futuyma's simple yet profound insight may help to heal the remaining rifts and integrate punctuated equilibrium into an evolutionary theory hierarchically enriched in its light17,18.

In summarizing the impact of recent theories upon human concepts of nature's order, we cannot yet know whether we have witnessed a mighty gain in insight about the natural world (against anthropocentric hopes and biases that always hold us down), or just another transient blip in the history of correspondence between misperceptions of nature and prevailing social realities of war and uncertainty. Nonetheless, contemporary science has massively substituted notions of indeterminacy, historical contingency, chaos and punctuation for previous convictions about gradual, progressive, predictable determinism. These transitions have occurred in field after field; Kuhn's90 celebrated notion of scientific revolutions is, for example, a punctuational theory for the history of scientific ideas. Punctuated equilibrium, in this light, is only palaeontology's contribution to a Zeitgeist, and Zeitgeists, as (literally) transient ghosts of time, should never be trusted. Thus, in developing punctuated equilibrium, we have either been toadies and panderers to fashion, and therefore destined for history's ashheap, or we had a spark of insight about nature's constitution. Only the punctuational and unpredictable future can tell.

Stephen Jay Gould is at the Museum of Comparative Zoology Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA; and Niles Eldredge is at the Department of invertebrates, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York. New York 10024, USA.


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