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Desert Diary
Biology/Thomas Malthus


The name of Thomas Malthus is not one you hear every day, but his 1798 work, "An Essay on Population", pointed out that unchecked population growth always eventually exceeds the resources needed to support the population. Applying this to mankind, he noted that unless population growth was checked by social means, it would be limited by such things as famine and disease.

This work of his helped set the foundations of modern biology. In 1838, Charles Darwin, groping for a theory to explain the mechanism for evolution, read Malthus. In Darwin's own words, he ". . . happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and . . . it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here, then I had at last got a theory by which to work." It was this, Darwin's theory of natural selection, that finally established a natural cause for adaptation and today forms the firm foundation of modern biolog
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Web Resources

University of California Museum of Paleontology