Consideration of phylogenetic series, especially from the palaeontological side, has led many writers to the conception that there is something of the nature of a growth-force inherent in organisms and tending inevitably towards divergent evolution.
His speculations on phylogeny, or the descent of invertebrates and vertebrates, were, however, most fantastic and bore no relation to palaeontological evidence.
The remains of the plants of former periods, which have come down to us in the fossilized state, are almost always fragmentary, and often imperfectly preserved; but their investigation is of the utmost importance to the botanist, as affording the only direct evidence of the past history of vegetable organisms. Since the publication of the Origin of Species the general acceptance of the doctrine of evolution has given a vastly increased significance to palaeontological data.
PAUL GERVAIS (1816-1879), French palaeontologist, was born on the 26th of September 1816 at Paris, where he obtained the diplomas of doctor of science and of medicine, and in 1835 he began palaeontological research as assistant in the laboratory of comparative anatomy at the Museum of Natural History.
On the other hand, a study of the plant-life of past ages tends to the conviction that too much stress may be laid on the imperfection of the geological record as a factor in the interpretation of palaeontological data.
In attempting to account for the distribution of existing vegetation we must take into account palaeontological evidence.
Such restorations are possible because of the intimate fitness of animals and plants to their environment, and because such fitness has distinguished certain forms of life from the Cambrian to the present time; the species have altogether changed, but the laws governing the life of certain kinds of organisms have remained exactly the same for the whole period of time assigned to the duration of life; in fact, we read the conditions of the past in a mirror of adaptation, often sadly tarnished and incomplete owing to breaks in the palaeontological record, but constantly becoming more polished by discoveries which increase the understanding of life and its all-pervading relations to the non-life.
The sum of the primitive characters approximately restores the primitive form; and the gaps in palaeontological evidence are supplied by analysis of the available zoological, embryological and anatomical evidence.
The concurrence of botanical (Hooker, 1847), zoological, and finally of palaeontological evidence for the reconstruction of the continent of Antarctica, is one of the greatest triumphs of biological investigation.
In 1837 at Berlin, and was subsequently employed in the mineralogical museum of the university, becoming director of the palaeontological collection in 1857, and director of the museum in 1875.