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Evolutionary Biologist Ernst Mayr Dies

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Ernst Mayr, one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists, has died at 100.

The longtime Harvard University faculty member died Thursday at a retirement community in Bedford.

His work in the 1930s and '40s, while a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, established him as a leading neo-Darwinist, supporting a theory of evolution that is a combination of Darwin's natural selection theory and modern genetics.

In his travels in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, Mayr showed, unlike Darwin, that species can arise from isolated populations.

"Professor Mayr's contributions to Harvard University and to the field of evolutionary biology were extraordinary by any measure," Harvard history professor William C. Kirby said, calling Mayr a "leading mind of the 20th century."

Mayr "shaped and articulated modern understanding of biodiversity and related fields," Kirby said.

Born in Kempten, Germany, Mayr joined the Harvard faculty in 1953 as a zoology professor and led Harvard's Comparative Zoology museum from 1961 to 1970. He retired in 1975.

Mayr throughout his career fought to make sure biology stood alongside physics, astronomy and chemistry. He is credited with pioneering the study of philosophy and history of biology.

"Much as we know about the 'how' of human evolution, the 'why' is still a great puzzle," he wrote in 1963.

He is survived by two daughters, five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

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