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Celebrating Zoology, Ecology, and Evolutionary Biology

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Today’s Sunday Morning Stop at the Intersection of Science, Art, Music, and Humanities celebrates the Galapagos Finch Evolution, and this week’s Professors Grant honorary degree from Princeton.

Peter and B. Rosemary Grants’ legendary explorations over four decades of the group of 18 bird species known as Darwin’s Finches have produced an array of insights into the importance of understanding diversity, evolutionary biology, and natural selection.  A brilliant video of their work can be seen here.


Princeton University’s statement at the award ceremony that was part of the undergraduate and graduate student graduation of the Princeton Class of 2019:

"Peter Grant is a professor of zoology, emeritus, and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, emeritus. Rosemary Grant is a senior research biologist, emeritus, in ecology and evolutionary biology.

“The husband-and-wife team came to Princeton University in 1985. Both study the interplay of genetics, ecology and behavior, especially on the question of why and when one species separates into two.

“They have published numerous papers on their research conducted on the Galápagos Island of Daphne Major, which is in a natural state unaffected by humans. Among their many honors, in 2018 the Grants received the BBVA Foundation of Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the category of ecology and conservation biology. In 2017, they received the Royal Medal in Biology from the Royal Society of London in recognition of their work in demonstrating that “natural selection occurs frequently and that evolution is rapid as a result.”


"In 2005, the Grants received the Balzan Prize for population biology, followed by the Kyoto Prize in 2009. The Grants are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the American Philosophical Society, and the General Assembly of the Charles Darwin Foundation.

“Peter Grant received his B.A. from the University of Cambridge and his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia. Rosemary Grant received her B.Sc. from the University of Edinburgh and her Ph.D. from Uppsala University.

“With a chance meeting between 23-year-old biologists, a remarkable love story began. She leaned toward genetics while he leaned toward ecology, but they shared a passionate curiosity about life’s ever-shifting balance. A two-year study in the equatorial Galápagos evolved into the work—and partnership—of a lifetime, tracking natural selection in its twists and surprisingly rapid turns over five decades.


"Through years of drought and years of drenching rain, they expanded our understanding of genetics, ecology, evolution and behavior as they watched finches find food and choose mates, adapt and regroup, starve and thrive. They have embodied the advice that she once gave young scientists:

“Follow your heart—the path will not be smooth, but there will be magic in it.”


Ellen Troyer and th Biosyntrx staff


Thank you Vincent De Luise, MD, for bringing the Grants’ work to my attention. In 2000, his father donated his Galapagos and Easter Island book collection to Princeton, Vincent’s Alma Mater, in recognition of the Grants’ seminal work on evolution.