Thursday, 25 June 2009

Darwins' fungi

Darwins Fungus (Cyttaria darwinii)
Charles Darwin was born two hundred years ago this year (1809). His contributions to how we understand the natural world were many and varied, culminating in the publication of his book 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection' published in 1859.

Darwin was an avid collector and contributed many thousands of species to the British Museum, perhaps most famously during his voyages to the Galapagos Islands. Some of these specimens show the multitude of small differences that Darwin hypothesised constituted adaptions to the local environments of particular islands within the archipelago, caused by natural selection - the driving force of evolution.

Some of the specimens Darwin collected were fungi (mainly fruiting bodies which at that time were thoughtby many to be simple plants) and these are now stored at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, UK along with a vast collection of 1.2 million species of fungi including every species of Aspergillus.

This massively important collection, originating 20 years after Darwin published his most famous book, is one of the worlds most complete collections of fungi and forms a resource available to all scientists around the world.

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