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No AccessAmerican Society of Naturalists Address

The Snail’s Charm*

*Presidential address presented to the annual meeting of the American Society of Naturalists, June 2017, Portland, Oregon.

In 2017, The American Naturalist celebrated its 150th anniversary. It was founded as a journal of natural history, yet it developed into an important vehicle of the evolutionary synthesis. During the early years of the journal and through much of the twentieth century, evolutionary theory was developed to explain the history of nature before humankind existed to alter it—when time was expansive and uncommon events, though rare, were frequent enough to effect evolutionary change. Today, with the influence of human activity, dispersal patterns are fundamentally altered, genetic variation is locally limiting in small and fragmented populations, and environments are changing so rapidly that time itself seems limited. How can we use this theory, which was built to explain the past and which depends on an excess of chances and time, to address the challenges of the present and the future when chances are fewer and time seems so short? And does the habit of naturalists to observe, describe, and cultivate a fascination with nature have a place in contemporary science?