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What Darwin should have learned from pigeons

Some have said of On the Origin of Species that it is all about pigeons.

David Tyler

Charles Darwin was fascinated by them. To help develop his thinking, he kept many different varieties and joined two local pigeon clubs to meet breeders. From one ancestral species, the rock-pigeon, hundreds of domestic breeds have been brought into existence. Darwin referred to the process as artificial selection: birds with desired characters are selected by the breeder for mating. Offspring with the strongest presence of desired characters are again selected for further breeding. By repeating the process, remarkable traits can be isolated, leading to characteristics that are novel and distinctive. Darwin wrote: ‘The diversity of the breeds is something astonishing’. However, his understanding of this diversity was seriously mistaken.