As an ornithologist, Mayr classified many birds, most notably risking the hostile terrain of New Guinea to catalogue the region’s birds of paradise. But he will arguably be best remembered for formulating the concept of species that students still use today.
Among his activities in New Guinea was getting folk taxonomies and seeing how well they matched with the Western taxonomies. Very cool and very modern idea for the time. Plus, you know, the rest of modern biology. But I’ll leave that to the big wigs.
Ernst Mayr is just one of those names that you hear spoken of with such respect and reverence that you figure he must be dead. Then he publishes a new book, or gives a talk, or gets interviewed, and you realize that biology is such a young and fast moving science that even the éminences grises are still alive and kicking. And with a legacy like Mayr’s, he’ll be alive in labs and classrooms forever.
“ Farewell ” by Pete Seeger from the album We Shall Overcome — The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert (1963, 3:10).