Zoogeographies

What became known as zoogeography emerged at a time of unheralded exploration, colonial conquest and Empires, collections of animal and plant specimens to be returned to nations such as Britain and France, trophyhunting as an elite leisure pursuit, alongside, and inimical to, the development of scientific disciplines such as biology, geography, and zoology. As such zoogeography, or regional biogeography, should be viewed as emerging out of distinctly geopolitical concerns. A figure such as P L Sclater (for much of his life the Secretary of the London Zoological Society) can be seen as an early and important cartographer of animal distributions from the many specimens he was sent to catalog and classify (writing over 1000 scientific and popular tracts) which were provided by freelance entrepreneurs, naval and military personnel, and those employed by institutions to collect from around the colonized world. For some 70 years before Darwin’s Origin of Species, those who worked with animals, plants, or fossils developed theories to explain patterns, dispersals, and habitats in relation to collected species. P L Sclater’s 1858 paper on animal distributions (based on avian samples) was seen by many of his contemporaries, most notably Alfred Russell Wallace, as developing a new approach to animal geographies. In this work, Sclater set to map out the main geographical regions of the Earth according to how animals arranged themselves across the Earth’s surface, or at subregional scales to establish patterns of spatial covariation between animals and other environmental factors. These regions were much debated and fine tuned by Wallace and J A Allen, amongst others, and still retain some provenance today, having become known as the Sclater–Wallace regions. Few geographers have actually continued to work in this field, or even with zoogeographical studies in biogeography, these now being more associated with biological and ecological disciplines. However, the taxidermic specimens that emerged from this time of exploration and hunting are now becoming the focus of new animal geographies in terms of developing their biographies in another aspect of animal geographies.