Evolutionary Biology/Georges Cuvier

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Georges Cuvier (1769 – 1832) is known for two topics that are very important to modern science. First, he is considered the founder of the study of functional anatomy. By studying the makeup of the body and its arrangements, he was able to make certain assumptions about body parts by simply examining others.

Cuvier was very interested in Linnaeus’ classification system. After extensive study, he modified the system. The system of taxonomy now included the realm of fossils. He was the first to realise that fossils were the organic remains of extinct animals. Because of his work with fossils, he was given the title of Father of Paleontology. Cuvier was also a believer of immutability of characteristics which rejected evolutionary theory as well as Lamarck’s idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics.

The most important contribution of Cuvier was his theory of catastrophism. Through his fossil study, he came to notice that some layers (strata) differed from other layers. He also observed that certain fossils were not present in all layers and some completely disappeared after a certain level. This gave Cuvier the idea that the reason for this observation was mass extinction. By adding these two ideas together, he came to his idea of catastrophism: the idea that the boundaries between the strata correspond with catastrophes that occurred throughout time that wiped out entire species. This was his explanation of why certain fossils sometimes disappeared after being found in some strata.

Cuvier’s theory of catastrophism is important to evolution because it gave other scientists a basis to work from. Many other discoveries and ideas come from some theory backing up or going against catastrophism. This theory is also import today with the ongoing investigation of the Chicxulub crater off of the Yucatán peninsula. This crater is a geologic finding potentially reinforces this theory making catastrophism a possible extinction mechanism of the dinosaurs.