Preface to the First (Czech) edition

Only a thoroughly unreasonable person would set out to write an extensive monograph or textbook covering a broad field in these busy modern times.The time that must be invested compared to any other type of professional activity is enormous and the returns in the form of received tangible outputs that can be employed in scientific evaluation or to obtain professional credits are minimal.It is better not to even consider the aspect of financial returns.Nonetheless, it does occasionally happen that such a personal misfortune befalls someone.Because incomparably more people are working in the sciences than ever before in the past, scientific works are being created much faster than the average Czech scientist is able to save money for their purchase, and (s)he certainly doesn’t have the time to read them all.And that is another important reason not to write textbooks or monographs.When the first lines of this disgustingly thick book were formulated seven years ago, I was at least generally aware of all these facts.However, I put my natural wariness to rest with the excuse that I was certainly not setting out to write an extensive work, that I basically wanted to merely extend, by about one third, modernize and supplement the references in the already-finished text of the book on The Mechanisms of Micro-Evolution, which I wrote in 1993 – 1994 for the elementary course in Evolutionary Biology for the students of the Faculty of Science of Charles University.It was only after two years of work that I realized that such a minor improvement of a “basically finished” text would be substantially more demanding than writing a new, original text.After another two years, I began to understand the difference between an auxiliary teaching text, mimeographed lecture notes and a serious textbook written as a monograph.But by then it was too late.Typical male pride combined with “Flegr” stubbornness did not allow me to back out of an unprofitable situation.To the contrary, when I realized that my wiser co-lecturers would never write a teaching text that would be devoted to the macro-evolutionary parts of the lectures, I decided to add the relevant “three or four” macro-evolution chapters to my text.At least the other chapters would have time to mature, I would be able to regularly supplement them with examples from the new literature and the students would have a complete textbook in the field.The three-or-four chapters finally ended up being ten.As the micro-evolution part was supplemented by the chapter entitled The Evolutionary Sequence of DNA, it seemed to me that it would be useful to also add a chapter on Molecular Phylogenetics, as this would make the final text useful as a basic textbook for the lectures of the same name.For a similar reason, a chapter on the Evolution of Parasitism was also included in the book.And, to complete my bad luck, in 2002 I had the opportunity to read the very interesting book on evolution by Mark Ridley.While reading it, I became aware that even the best text without pictures is somehow incomplete in these modern multi-media times.Thus, I spent another six months drawing figures and graphs.I must ask more artistically talented readers to forgive my style.To quote a famous Czech performer (Jiří Suchý) – “I will sing with a rather husky voice because... ... well, because I have no other.”

            At the present time, most textbooks and monographs are the joint works of variously large collectives of authors.This is, understandably, preferable for many reasons – the authors share the necessity of investing time and each devotes himself to the parts that he knows best.The time required for the work is reduced, decreasing the risk that the individual parts of the text will become obsolete before the book gets to the press.To retain at least the remnants of self-respect, I looked for the advantages of a book written by a single author while I was preparing the text.I finally came to the conclusion that there is, indeed, an advantage in the route that I so frivolously set out on.This basically lies in the greater creative freedom.In choosing the forms and contents of the text, the author need not take into consideration the actual or anticipated opinions of his co-authors.The errors that he makes are purely his own mistakes and, if he enters into speculations at some point, then he endangers only his own scientific reputation.I attempted to exploit these advantages to an appropriate degree.In choosing the substance of the book, I certainly didn’t limit myself to known and verified facts; to the contrary, I attempted to include the greatest possible number of theories and hypotheses (including my own hypotheses) in the book, even with the risk that a great many of them will finally not pass the test of time and scientific verification.With a certain degree of trepidation, I even left some quite wild hypotheses in the text, that even I don’t expect to be confirmed in the future.However, some of them are so interesting that it would be a pity not to share them with the reader, for the simple reason that, probably because of momentary lack of invention, nature chose a different, sometimes far less exciting solution in the particular case.Of course, I added my opinion of the validity of the particular hypothesis to the explication.

            The mechanisms of evolutionary processes always constitute the focal point of interest.For clarity, I would like to point out that I perceive the concept of mechanism quite unmechanically.For me, mechanisms are not macroscopic or microscopic or even submicroscopic gear wheels and levers, which poke at one another and thus cause movement and changes in the shapes of living and nonliving objects in our field of vision.I understand mechanism in the cybernetic sense, as an explanation of the behavior of the system on the basis of knowledge of the properties of its elements, or on the basis of knowledge of the properties of the system of which it is a subsystem.The element in the system can be a tangible object, for example a gear wheel or topoisomerase enzyme, or even an intangible state of mind, i.e. anger, delight or extinction of a reflex.In this, I am interested primarily in general mechanisms and not in the specific constructive solutions that evolutionary randomly chose for implementation of the particular processes.When a physiologist looks at the structure of the eye or functioning of the brain, he must base his considerations on the existing structures, understand their properties in detail and explain the functioning of the particular organ on the basis of these properties.In contrast, the evolutionary biologist must first of all ask why an eye or brain consists of exactly those components that are present, whether the result is accidental, the consequence of physical or chemical laws or of evolutionary constraints, or whether this necessarily follows from the character of evolutionary processes – from their mechanisms.In order for it to be possible to answer these questions, it is necessary to understand evolutionary mechanisms.It is the main purpose of this book to present the most complete list possible of the mechanisms active in evolution.

            A good book does not require instructions for use.As I am not brave enough to guess whether Evolutionary Biology falls in this category, I have decided to provide the reader with something in the sense of an “information leaflet” at this point.Please be so good as to place yourself in one of the following categories and use the book according to the relevant instructions.

a) The interested lay person without knowledge of biology.To begin with, I would recommend that you read Chapters I (Biological Evolution), XXVII (Criticism and Defense of Evolutionary Theories), XVI (Evolution of Behavior), XVII (Cultural Evolution), XIV (Evolutionary Consequences of Sexual Reproduction) and XV (Sexual Selection).If your interest survives these six chapters, then you can return to Chapter II and carefully read the remaining chapters in the usual order.Any part of the text can be left out without loss of continuity and the chapters on the evolution of molecular traits, molecular phylogenetics and classical systematics even seem to ask for this.

a) The interested lay person with knowledge of secondary school biology.The text should be understandable for you and I hope that it will also be easy to digest.It can be gradually consumed in reasonable amounts from the beginning to the end.You can ignore the technical details without detriment; evolutionary biology is concerned with why a certain phenomenon occurs, not on how this process proceeds.

c) A student in a university (masters’) course of evolutionary biology.The material contained in the book exceeds the level and scope of a basic course.I would recommend that you employ the relevant syllabus of the particular university lectures to find the parts that you will be required to know at examinations.However, like every conceited author, I am also of the opinion that prior reading through (although not necessarily detailed study) the entire text will substantially assist in understanding the selected parts.Important warning!Students, who were not as successful as they expected to be in their examinations in previous years, frequently stated that my study texts are very misleading.They seem to be easy to read quickly and frequently create the false impression amongst students that the relevant subject matter is simple and easy to understand – in fact that there is no need for further study.This is not the case!I would recommend that, in the framework of preparing for an examination, the student leaf through the detailed contents of the book, gradually read through the headings of the individual chapters and think about whether they know what they mean and to what they are related.You can also run through the index for the words “model” and “hypothesis” and think about whether you understand to what each mentioned model and hypothesis is related.A last recommendation that is also mentioned (without any great response) in the prefaces of the individual published lecture notes on The Mechanisms of Micro-Evolution:It is more interesting to study and think through the parts concerned with the forms of co-evolutionary battles between males and females than, for example, those on the fluctuation test, demonstrating the random nature of mutation.Unfortunately, the fluctuation test is one of my favorite parts of the theory of evolution and it is thus far more probable that you will be required to draw its scheme during an examination than that you be asked to colorfully describe the details of the evolutionary game of “who’s thelazier parent”.

d) The biologist.This book should definitely not be lacking in your personal bookcase.I intend to control this regularly.You will certainly have the opportunity of occasionally consulting it when you are looking for the meaning of some evolutionary term or the nature of an evolutionary mechanism.It would, of course, please me if you also read my book and find it useful in your field.If you run into any mistakes or imprecisions, please let me know by e-mail at flegratnatur [dot] cuni [dot] cz.

e) Members of the Committee for awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature.Isn’t it high time to award recognition to a truly good professional book?The best one would be in the field of evolutionary biology in a minority language, such as Czech.

f) The publishing editor.That was only a little joke. I am allowed that in the preface, aren’t I?

            In conclusion, I would like to thank a number of friends without whose support and assistance it would have been impossible to finish the book in this form.First of all, I must thank my tolerant wife, Monika, who managed for six long years, without excessive protests, to share table and bed (not to mention the floor of the living room, the halls and the other areas in our house, not excluding the toilet) with the growing piles of reprints.I would also like to thank all the official and unofficial reviewers and consultants.Amongst them, the greatest contributions were made by Anton Markoš and Fatima Cvrčková, who were probably the only ones who managed to work their way through the entire manuscript and who densely covered it with their sometimes even legible comments.Jiří Král also made a great contribution; although he read only selected chapters, the density of his comments and suggestions for changes were so great that it was hard to find the original text in some parts of the manuscript.I managed to convince a number of my colleagues to read the other chapters; a list of them (unfortunately probably incomplete) is given in alphabetical order:Daniel Frynta, Tomáš Grim, Jan Havlíček, Ivan Horáček, Petr Horák, Zdeněk Kratochvíl, Stanislav Lhota, Václav Petr, Zdeněk Skála, David Storch, Radka Storchová, Milena Svobodová, Jan Votýpka, Jan Zrzavý.As each of them read through only a small part of the manuscript, it is, I hope, not necessary to emphasize that any and all mistakes that (quite certainly) still remain in the text are my sole responsibility.

            What more can I say?It is probably better to say nothing.So, end of the fun and let’s get down to reading.


Prague, September 14, 2003.


Jaroslav Flegr

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The classical Darwinian theory of evolution can explain the evolution of adaptive traits only in asexual organisms. The frozen plasticity theory is much more general: It can also explain the origin and evolution of adaptive traits in both asexual and sexual organisms Read more
Draft translation from: Evoluční biologie, 2. vydání (Evolutionary biology, 2nd edition), J. Flegr, Academia Prague 2009. The translation was not done by biologist, therefore any suggestion concerning proper scientific terminology and language usage are highly welcomed. You can send your comments to flegratcesnet [dot] cz. Thank you.