Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897)

Edward Drinker Cope was an American paleontologist and evolutionist. He was one of the founders of the Neo- Lamarckian school of evolutionary thought. This school believed that changes in developmental (embryonic) timing, not natural selection, was the driving force of evolution. In 1867, Cope suggested that most changes in species occured by coordinated additions to the ontogeny of all the individuals in a species. Speciation proceeded by the addition of stages to the end of embryonic sequences of development and by compression of earlier stages into the earlier parts of the developmental sequence. That is, a new developmental stage would be tacked onto the end of the developmental process, pushing the old end stage further back in development. Cope thought that groups of species that shared similar developmental patterns could be grouped into more inclusive groups (i.e. genera, families, and so on).

Cope tied together his notion of "accelerated growth" with Lamarckian ideas. He thought that parts of the body most in use would be most likely to become better developed at the expense of other, less used parts. That is, new ontogenetic additions would cause some body parts to become very well developed if those body parts were in heavy use. Divergence and diversity were created through changes in timing of development in different organ systems due to use. The more distantly related two species are, the more their developmental patterns will vary deep into ontogeny.

Cope led many natural history surveys in the American West for the precursors of the U.S. Geological Survey. He made many important finds on his trips, including dinosaur discoveries in western North America. He was primarily a herpetologist and mammalogist and he described many genera and species that are still used today.

  • Dinosaur discoveries