What are your favorite quotes about ecology and evolution?
There’s the final paragraph of Darwin’s Origin, of course–the “tangled bank” image, “There is grandeur in this view of life”, and all that. As good as anything I’ve ever read, but perhaps a bit too lengthy to be considered a “quote”. I’m thinking more of pithy one-liners here.
I really like Francis Crick’s remark, “Evolution is cleverer than you are”. Very true, very pithy.
For a bit of discussion and context about Dobzhansky’s famous line “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” (which isn’t one of my all-time favorites for some reason), go here.
I’m having trouble coming up with good ecology quotes. Casual googling mostly turns up quotes about environmentalism. I do really like an old bumper sticker which some former grad student of Peter Morin’s stuck on the lab vehicle (to Peter’s annoyance, or so I heard). It read “Ecology is as easy as…” and then completed the sentence with the equilibrium conditions for the Lotka-Volterra competition equations.
UPDATE: The best ecology quotes seem to be those that insult ecology–and some of them are from ecologists! A commenter quotes Elton, writing in his famous Animal Ecology book, defining ecology as “The science which says what everyone knows in language that no one understands.” And this compilation of ecology quotes includes evolutionary biologist E. B. Ford’s remark, “It seems to me that ecology describes what animals do, when they are doing nothing interesting.”
I’d be a little cautious about the veracity of the quotes in this compilation (Box’s famous line about how “all models are wrong but some are useful” is misattributed, which makes one wonder about the accuracy of the other quotes). But there a number of other zingers which I hope were actually said:
Peter Grant: “Pattern, like beauty, is to some extent in the eye of the beholder.”
John Maynard Smith: “Mathematics without natural history is sterile, but natural history without mathematics is muddled.”
Peter Kareiva: “Academic ecologists are renowned for arguing amongst themselves about all the things they do not know.”
Peter Morin: “There are some ecologists who put down lab experiments because we have abstracted things too much. Our response is that if you don’t start with a simple system, you won’t understand what’s going on anyway.”
This compilation also includes some lines of ecological verse, such as this bit from Ben Jonson:
- Almost all the wise world
- is little else in nature
- but parasites or sub-parasites
- Which reminds me of this bit of doggerel from Ogden Nash:
- Big things have little things
- Which sit on them and bite ’em
- Little things have littler things
- And so on ad infinitum
- So, on the basis of n=2 datapoints, we can conclude that all ecological verse concerns parasites.😉