Synthesis and Selection: Wynne-Edwards' Challenge to David Lack

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David Lack of Oxford University and V.C. Wynne-Edwards of Aberdeen University were renowned ornithologists with contrasting views of the modern synthesis which deeply influenced their interpretation and explanation of bird behavior. In the 1950's and 60's Lack became the chief advocate of neo-Darwinism with respect to avian ecology, while Wynne-Edwards developed his theory of group selection. Lack's position was consistent with the developing focus on individual level adaptation, which was a core concept of the modern synthesis. Alternatively, Wynne-Edwards viewed the emphasis on populations as the most important development provided by the modern synthesis. In this paper, I present the development of these two positions and trace their roots in the literature of the synthesis. Through an analysis of Lack's 1966 critique of Wynne-Edwards I conclude that Wynne-Edwards was, in many ways, justified in his pursuit of group level explanations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-566
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of the History of Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2003

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • David Lack
  • Evolution
  • Group selection
  • Modern synthesis
  • V.C. Wynne-Edwards


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