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Alfred Russel Wallace: conservation or sustainable development?

From a twenty-first century conservation biology perspective it is difficult to reconcile the images of a man who shot and killed eighteen orang-utans (the nineteenth he shot got away), with that of the man who advocated the establishment of botanical reserves in the tropics and wrote “He [the naturalist, meaning himself] looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as one of the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth’s history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily obscure this invaluable record of the past.”

The Victorian naturalist and dedicated socialist Alfred Russel Wallace did all of these things; his relationship with nature and the environment is both typically Victorian and astonishingly modern. This talk will explore Wallace’s and others’ attitudes towards the conservation of wild nature and compare these to today’s preoccupation with biodiversity, drawing on my own and Wallace’s experiences in the tropics.

Sandra Knapp obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Botany from Pomona College, in Claremont, California and her PhD in 1986 from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. She is a specialist on the taxonomy of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, and has spent much time in the field in Central and South America collecting plants. She came to the Natural History Museum, London, in 1992 to manage the international project Flora Mesoamericana - a synoptic inventory of the approximately 18,000 species of plants of southern Mexico and the isthmus of Central America. She is also the author of several popular books on the history of science and botanical exploration, including the award-winning Potted Histories (2004). Dr. Knapp is an elected member of the councils of Fauna and Flora International, the Linnean Society of London, the Organization Pro-Flora Neotropica, the International Association of Plant Taxonomy and the Tropical Biology Association and she is on the editorial board of several high profile taxonomic journals. In 2009 she was honored by the Peter Raven Outreach Award by the American Society of Plant Taxonomists and the UK National Biodiversity Network’s John Burnett Medal.



Dr Sandy Knapp | talks | www


Date and Time:

9 January 2011 at 11:00 am


2 hours



Conway Hall
Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
0207 242 8034

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