As a general museum assistant Mayr, like the three other assistants, was assigned special tasks. His assignment was the Museum's main library where he decided which books to buy, how to classify them, which departments should get incoming reprints, but most of all how to arrange a planned new catalogue of the Museum's 1750 journals. He developed a system of three keywords: (1) A single name, e.g., proceedings, annals, bulletin, etc.; (2) the publishing institution (museum, society, university, etc also a single name); and (3) the place of publication (London, New York, Berlin, etc.). By contrast, the standard catalogues alphabetized every single word in the title and if the user did not realize that the word "Royal" was in the title he would have great trouble finding the title wanted. This catalogue was not yet finished, when Mayr left for New Guinea. His colleague Wilhelm Meise completed and published it under both names in 1929. It was Mayr's firstbook. Many scientists praised such a simplification. It remained in continuous use until the advent of the computerized catalogue at the Berlin Museum in 1992 made it obsolete.
Mayr was also a lecture assistant for the course in systematic zoology. "It was about as old-fashioned a course as one could imagine. Apparently it was Zimmer's ideal to make the student familiar with the total diversity of the animal kingdom. For each class the lecture assistants had to set up scores of preserved specimens, stuffed birds and mammals or boxes with insects as the course moved from protozoans to mammals. There were sometimes as many as 60 or more containers with spirit specimens. The assistant had to find them in the teaching collection and roll them on small carts to the lecture hall. After the lecture he had to take them back again. It was a tedious and senseless activity—my only connection with teaching while I was at the Berlin Museum. When I came to the American Museum in New York, no one in the Bird Department did any teaching. And so, for many years, I experienced no teaching at all."
The senior assistant Bernhard Rensch (1900-1990) was now in charge of the public exhibits, where he did a pioneering job in presenting biologically relevant topics. Mayr also appreciated his publications and remembered:
"Rensch came to the Berlin Museum while I worked there for my PhD. He was 4 years older, but considerably more mature than myself. He had very broad interests, and was at that time almost as much interested in psychology and philosophy as a student of Ziehen3 as he was in biology. In biology, likewise, although he had a considerable interest in birds and bird study, he was interested in all sorts of organisms. He was later on given the position of curator of mollusks at the Berlin Museum, and contributed quite a few taxonomic additions, and had PhD students working in mollusk taxonomy. Rensch, in a way, was a rather shy person. He was quite pleasant but not outgoing, and a bit difficult to get into a conversation. We always lunched together nearby at the lunchroom of the Ministry of Labor, with Stresemann, Rensch, Professor Neumann, and had lively conversations in which Rensch usually was the least active one. Neumann was a great person for telling jokes, particularly dirty jokes. And he was always amused in what sequence people started laughing at one of his far fetched dirty jokes, and, much to my disgrace, I must admit that I was the one who always laughed first, and Rensch always was the one who laughed last. Obviously, he was very innocent and somewhat naive and he had one weakness: He had no sense of humor at all. If you tried to tease him,
3 Theodor Ziehen (1862-1950) was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Halle.
he always took it seriously. Even though he was not terribly impressive as a person, I admired him greatly for a number of reasons. One was his breadth of knowledge, secondly, he had ideas—he had plans; he thought of the future. He was placed in charge of the exhibition halls of the museum, and organized perhaps the most modern exhibits any museum had. It always illustrated basic biological principles and did not just show interesting exceptions or particular things. From his 1929 book, I undoubtedly learned more than I ever actually learned from Stresemann. And I often have said that in a way, at the Berlin Museum, Rensch was perhaps more my teacher than Stresemann. Later on he published a manual of taxonomy (1934), which I thought was really quite admirable, and it inspired me to write my own textbook one day, which actually later on I did, although it was finally combined with a parallel manuscript of Linsley and Usinger (1953a).
One of Rensch's interests was biogeography. He wrote a whole book on the biogeography of the Sunda Islands and eastern Indonesia (1936), which I think was inferior to his other work. He was an inveterate land bridge builder. When I did my papers on Wallace's Line and on Timor, I disagreed with almost all of his conclusions. Later on in life, he wrote a good deal on philosophy. Here again, I rather disagreed with him. Since he did not accept emergence, he had to assume that such phenomena as mind and consciousness occurred already at the lowest levels (molecular) and I suspect that his philosophical writings found few followers.
Rensch was quite an artist. He painted excellently, and many of his paintings are in German art galleries. He also could write poetry, and wrote a very nice autobiography. He had a rather tough time during the Nazi period, because he was anything but a Nazi. He had married the daughter of the president of the province of Brandenburg in Germany, who was a social democrat, and, of course, his daughter probably as well. So when the Nazis came to power, he was going to be dismissed a few years later, but Stresemann and the director of the museum interfered successfully. Nevertheless Rensch left the museum, when he had found a position at the museum in Münster owing to the great generosity of the local Nazi leader, who was a good man and did not take the Nazi laws too seriously.
Rensch continued to publish almost up to his death. He died a couple of weeks after his 90th birthday."
After Mayr's PhD examination, Stresemann introduced him to systematics and suggested that he study certain groups of Palearctic songbirds such as accentors (Prunella), snowfinches (Montifringilla) and Rosy-Finches (Leucosticte). Mayr described a couple of new subspecies of Prunella (1927e) and wrote a detailed revision (1927f) of the other two groups ofsongbirds mentioned above which Hartert (1910) in his great work on birds of the Palearctic fauna had combined in one genus. However, Mayr was able to show that these two groups differ conspicuously in their molt patterns. The species of Montifringilla change not only the body feathers but also wing and tail feathers during their first (juvenile) autumn molt ("complete molt"), whereas the young of Leucosticte species change only their body feathers at that time retaining wing and tail feathers for another year ("incomplete molt"). Two different and unrelated genera are involved; Montifringilla is related to the sparrows (Passer) and Leucosticte to the finches (Carduelis group). Peter Sushkin
(St. Petersburg, 1868-1928) having studied skull and skeleton in these groups fully confirmed in a personal letter to Mayr the latter's results based on molt patterns (see also Bock [2004b] who also supported Mayr's earlier conclusion). Mayr ended his article with an analysis of the history of dispersal of Leucosticte arctoa documenting his early interest in zoogeographic questions. The detailed description of geographic variation and speciation of the genus Leucosticte shows how familiar Mayr was already at that time with the principles of geographic speciation. This needs emphasis because it was later claimed that Mayr had learned about geographic speciation from Sewall Wright's 1932 paper (Ruse 1999:118).
His efforts to elucidate the genetic basis of geographical variation and speciation and to establish ties with genetics now found public expression for the first time. In the general discussion of his paper on snow finches, Mayr (1927f: 611-612) laments that the geneticists attempt "to analyze the factors of speciation without taking into consideration the examples offered by nature." He further deplored "how little geneticists and systematists cooperate even today" and "that the geneticists still today apply the Linnean species concept which is by now 170 years old (and in many respects outdated)," the systematists had abandoned it long ago. His justified criticism referred primarily to the mutationists among the classical geneticists, for he (like most other naturalists) was unaware of the recent publications of population geneticists emphasizing small mutations and they still adhered to Lamarckian views explaining gradual evolution.
During the mid-1920s all of Mayr's colleagues at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin were deeply concerned with evolutionary questions and fighting against the saltationist views of the "mutationists" like De Vries, Bateson and Johannsen (as well as R. Goldschmidt and O. Schindewolf during the 1930s) who interpreted evolution through macromutations (saltations). All of these latter scientists were typologists who thought new species originated with major mutations and all of them rejected natural selection. The Berlin zoologists at the Museum of Natural History studied in detail the phenomenon of geographical variation in animals leading to an emphasis on environmental factors. As long as mutations were believed to cause large phenotypic changes, their only alternative was a Lamarckian interpretation of the gradual (clinal) geographic variation they observed in numerous continental species. They realized—like Darwin and Wallace previously—that a thorough study of variation as well as adaptation in natural populations was an indispensable precondition to understand the problems of evolution and speci-ation. They all agreed that speciation was a slow process and that macromutations a la de Vries and Morgan's "freaky" Drosophila flies with yellow body color or crumpled wings had nothing to do with the development of new species. These naturalists divided characters into Mendelian (particulate) ones, which they considered evolutionarily unimportant, and gradual or blending ones which, following Darwin, should be the material of evolution. So the important thing that had to happen, and which indeed happened during the 1920s (at first unnoticed by the naturalists), was that the geneticists completely rejected the saltationist views of the early Mendelians and showed that genetic changes could happen through very small mutations which in the long run could be of great evolutionary importance.
Erwin Stresemann emphasized that extant birds provide a number of borderline cases between species and subspecies and that the taxonomic rank of geographically separated (allopatric) taxa as subspecies or species is to be determined by inference on the basis of several auxiliary criteria (Stresemann 1921:66):
(1) Similarity or dissimilarity in morphological and other biological characteristics (ecological requirements, voice, etc.),
(2) overlap or nonoverlap of individual variation in several characteristics,
(3) comparison with other congeneric forms that are in contact and either hybridize (subspecies) or overlap their ranges without hybridization (species).
Stresemann had established some ties between ornithology and genetics through a series of publications. Based on the work of Seebohm, Berlepsch, Hartert, Kleinschmidt, Hellmayr and their extensive discussions of the species problem, he had initiated a theoretical broadening of the Seebohm-Hartert tradition in the direction of the "new systematics." This conceptual modernization was continued by Bernhard Rensch and, in particular, Ernst Mayr (pp. 204-206).
During the late 1920s Mayr also reviewed several publications for Stresemann's Ornithologische Monatsberichte. Much of his spare time he devoted to bird excursions around Berlin discovering, e.g., that the Willow Tit (Parus montanus) was far more common in Brandenburg than recorded in bird books; probably it had been often confused with its sibling species, the widespread Marsh Tit (P palustris). A report of his observations on this species appeared in the Journal für Ornithologie (1928). He also published notes on the nesting of the Chaffinch (1926a) and the House Martin (1926c), on the occurrence of the Waxwing (1926g), the calls of the Bittern (1927c), on snake skins as nest material (1927d) and he often accompanied Gottfried Schiermann (1881-1946), whose population studies at that time were pioneer efforts continued in Germany only many years later.
Mayr reported: "My best friend in Berlin, except of course for Stresemann, was Gottfried Schiermann, a superb field ornithologist. I met him through Stresemann and through the meetings of the DOG. Schiermann was so much older than I, he could have been my father. He had no academic background but had been an ardent egg collector in his younger years. The bird censuses and ecological studies he published in the 1920s and 30s are pioneering. I loved to go in the field with him because he was such an acute observer. One day, just going through the woods together, he discovered 54 occupied bird nests. This included such difficult to find nests as that of the Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix). He was a specialist in finding the nests of birds of prey, most of whom use abandoned crows nests as their first foundation. Hence, in suitable woods he mapped in winter all the old crow nests and old hawk nests and then checked them systematically during the season for occupancy by hawks. I once made a memorable trip with him to the lower Spreewald where he showed me nesting Black Storks, and woodland White Storks, as well as many other exciting things. (We were nearly eaten up by the mosquitoes). He took me out to the nesting place of the Rohrschwirl (Savi's Warbler, Locustella luscinioides), where I was lucky enough to find a nest of this species (Fig. 2.2).
He was such a modest, warm, friendly person that it was always a pleasure to be with him. He never bragged about the enormous knowledge he had. I am told that during the bombing of Berlin he was quite heroic in extinguishing fires and making himself otherwise useful. His only son was killed on the Russian front and Schiermann was apparently quite unable to cope with this loss. To obtain food in the immediate days after the fall of Berlin must have been very difficult, and he was too modest to push himself. He died of malnutrition and illness on September 10, 1946. I rank him among the highest of all the human beings I have ever been fortunate enough to meet."
All the time Mayr and the PhD students had friendly personal relations with Dr. Stresemann and his family. Occasional invitations at his home were celebrated in high spirits. On 6th of December Mayr appeared as St. Nicolaus at Stresemann's door and surprised his three children. Usually he attended the biweekly meetings of the German Ornithological Society (DOG) and those of the Society of Naturalists (Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin) where representatives of dif ferent disciplines exchanged their views. He listened to presentations on faunistic observations in China (R. Mell) and on ethnological research in Peru (G. Tessmann) and had also contacts with the Mammalogical Society, the Zoological Institute of the University and their representatives.
Mayr now lived in a furnished room in Berlin-Hermsdorf with the Schneiders, a house right at the edge of the woods. Hermsdorf was on the same electrical transit line as Stresemann's home in Frohnau, one stop beyond Hermsdorf. Otherwise, Mayr did not enjoy much social life while he was an assistant curator at the museum. However, several students enlarged Stresemann's group of pre-docs. Mayr joined some young university staff members playing volleyball (Faustball) and persuaded Stresemann to do so on occasion, but he dropped out soon. There was still no girlfriend.
History of bird migration. In Mayr's paper on the evolutionary origins and development of bird migration (written in 1927 when he was 23 years old and completed by his colleague W. Meise after Mayr's departure for New Guinea; Mayr and Meise 1930c) he is convinced that most of these phenomena cannot be explained completely through evolution by natural selection "which can eliminate but not create anything new" (a view he would vigorously attack later). This is the last anti-selectionist statement found in Mayr's publications. Because of his Lamarckian views he was not able to discuss, much less answer, valid questions that he posed, e.g., "In which way originate genetically determined changes of migratory routes?" Mayr and Meise (l.c.) endorsed Thomson's four-fold division of complementary causes of migration (function, origin, physiology) but restricted themselves to a discussion of the evolutionary-zoogeographical development of bird migration (Beatty 1994).
In their opinion the route of migration is originally a backtracking of the route of immigration. However, subsequent phenomena, such as route abbreviation and route prolongation complicate any historical interpretation of the original home range of migratory birds. The major reason for route prolongation in species which expand their breeding area northward seems to be a strengthened physiological apparatus leading to a southward displacement of the wintering area. Mayr ends his theoretical discussion with the remark that without hypotheses, scientific progress is not achieved—as emphasized in the hypothetico-deductive method of testing previously conceived hypotheses. This theoretical paper was reviewed in detail by Mayr's colleague at the AMNH John T. Nichols (1931) who emphasized the point that the migratory drive, once started, tended to increase, "causing the bird to swing annually pendulum-wise over an ever increasing course." The original home of the species may then lie neither in the present breeding or wintering areas, but at some intermediate location.
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