By Humphrey Carter

CAMBRIDGE professor and leading international paleontologist Richard Fortey will today be giving a lecture here in Palma about what Darwin did not know when he wrote On The Origin of Species 150 years ago.

Fortey, who has over 40 years of experience in the field of the study of fossils, organisms' evolution and interactions with each other and their environments, explained yesterday that Darwin was well aware that there were flaws in the records he based his writings on, especially the fossil records, and he has spent much of his career “filling in the gaps and joining up the missing links.” Fortey, who continues to work as a Research Associate at the Natural History Museum in London, where he has enjoyed a long career as the museum's paleontologist, said that Darwin was conscious of the gaps and that little was known about the transition of animals and plants from water to land, for example “However, those mysteries and puzzles have provided us with plenty of answers to find over the years and discoveries are still being made, gaps in Darwin's works are still being plugged - and there are obviously certain things he missed,” said Fortey.

The award-winning paleontologist and writer also said that Darwin failed to realise just how complicated the link between humans and primates was, although Fortey said that may have been because of the sensitivity of the topic at the time. “The complexity of the transition has since been discovered and explained but still nothing has been discovered which proves Darwin was wrong. When one considers the advanced techniques and technology, genetics and DNA sciences we have today - Darwin has still yet to be proved wrong and, as a scientist, he won't be. “That's why this year's global celebration of the bicentenary of his birth and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species is so important. “It enables us to take the argument out in to the world. On the Origin of Species has to be one of the four most influential books ever written. “The religious groups and creationists who contest Darwin argue that the Bible is the explanation of evolution,” said Fortey.
As a “historical science” paleontology tries to explain causes rather than conduct experiments to observe effects and Fortey said that while he gets depressed about the damage we are causing to the environment and the natural world, “Darwin would be appalled.” “Darwin was not a conservationist, he was more concerned with the connection between things, but if he was alive today, he would be appalled at the way in which we've introduced new species to new habits and driven others to or near extinction. “I doubt he would be impressed with human evolution and what has happened over the past 150 years.” Fortey, is also concerned about the damage we are doing to the Earth. “Population growth and climate change are the two biggest threats we face. The effects of them you can see here in the Balearics, for example, with over-fishing and the threat of extinction that tuna and shark stocks face. “The world's become driven by greed and the problem is that, because of decades of burning carbon which has been stored by the Earth for millions of years - something which has never happened before - the Earth has entered into new territory. “The climate is obviously changing and unless we have the foresight to control population growth and harness climate change, we will run out of food and face the threat of widespread famines,” said Fortey who has been lecturing on Darwin in the United States and England over the past few months.

And, like Darwin, Fortey has written a number of books, many award-winning natural history publications, but his latest book Dry Store Room No 1, reveals some secrets of a rather different kind - the secret life, behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum. It is published by Harperpress and available from Amazon.