Many people will have heard the name Wallace at some point, particularly those students studying biology, but many are unaware who the name refers to. Operation Wallacea themselves are named after Alfred Russell Wallace, or more specifically after the area of Indonesia named after him: the Wallacea Region.
Alfred Russell Wallace was a British naturalist born in 1823. Although he left school aged only 14, he developed a love of the natural world, particularly the collection of beetles in his early natural history years. Wallace’s pursuit of the wonders of nature eventually led to him spending several years in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and subsequently in the Malay Archipelago (modern day Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia). During his time in the Malay Archipelago he collected a quite amazing 110,000 insects, 7500 shells, 8050 bird skins, and 410 mammal and reptile specimens. You can find out more about Wallace’s travels, as well as those of Darwin, by downloading the following map produced by Operation Wallacea in 2013.
Despite this impressive dedication to specimen collection, Wallace’s most famous accomplishment was his often forgotten contribution to the development of the theory of natural selection. In a letter to Charles Darwin, Wallace outlined his thoughts on the subject. Although Darwin had been working on his own theory of evolution for many years, he was impressed with Wallace’s writings, and published some of his own writings alongside them at the Linnean Society of London.
An impressive man with a fascinating story. If you have an interest in natural history, taking the time to find out a little bit more about him is never time wasted. To get you started, the video that can be seen here was directed and produced by Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck as part of the 2013 commemorations of the centenary of his death, and is a wonderful summary of Wallace’s life.