Such expressions as that famous one of Linnæus, and which we often meet with in a more or less concealed form, that the characters do not make the genus, but that the genus gives the characters, seem to imply that something more is included in our classification, than mere resemblance. I believe that something more is included; and that propinquity of descent,—the only known cause of the similarity of organic beings,—is the bond, hidden as it is by various degrees of modification, which is partially revealed to us by our classifications (Darwin, 1859, p. 413f).

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The Giraffe's Long Neck

Craig Holdrege at the Nature Institute has published a great book titled The Giraffe's Long Neck: from evolutionary fable to whole organism. Here an excerpt from my review in The Systematist
"The book consists of four chapters that cover existing theories of giraffe form, notably its long neck, physiology, development, ecology and evolution. The text is interspersed with elegant black and white line drawings and the text is written in an easy conversational style. The first chapter “Evolutionary stories falling short” is a critique of present evolutionary theories in relation to the giraffe's neck. Like most, I recall being taught sometime in school that the giraffe's long neck is an example of an adaptation, an explanation that championed neo-Darwinian theory over “inferior” Lamarckianism. In our texts there was a picture of an upright giraffe apparently feeding, with the story that by having a long neck the giraffe could reach the rare green foliage and therefore survive. Since no one in class experiences the giraffe directly, we accept the story and go no further. This is the starting point for Holdrege's argument. In considering the giraffe feeding it appears to have a long neck. With legs splayed cumbersomely to reach down while drinking, giraffes appear to have awkwardly short necks. What do we as taxonomists gain from this insight? Holdrege has exposed advantageous adaptation as an evolutionary fable, showing that in focusing on a single part of the giraffe we have lost sight of the whole organism" (The Systematist 2007 28:13-14)
The Giraffe's Long Neck: from evolutionary fable to whole organism is available from the Nature Institute website.


Holdrege, C. 2005. The Giraffe's Long Neck: from evolutionary fable to whole organism. Nature Institute Perspectives 4. The Nature Institute, Ghent, New York, pp.104. USD14.00.

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