February 1st, 2012 • 5:31 PM
First Complete English Translation of Vernadsky’s “Evolution of Species and Living Matter”

by Meghan Rouillard

In last week’s edition of the Weekly Report, Sky Shields referred to a metric of evolutionary progress known as the increase of “the biogenic migration of atoms.” This metric, developed by Vladimir Vernadsky, was featured earlier in an LPAC video called "A Vernadskian Law of Evolution" as part of our video series on evolution. That video was the product of a reading and translation of Vernadsky’s 1928 speech called, “On the Evolution of Species and Living Matter.” Now, I am happy to offer a final edited version of this translation, which had been excerpted on the site earlier, in full.

Click here to read the new Vernadsky translation. Download a pdf of the translation here (footnotes are my own).

In the weekly report, Sky Shields discussed the case of the increase of the biogenic migration of phosphorus with the advent of birds. This example was presented by Vernadsky as part of an arc of the history of evolution of the biogenic migration of atoms. Here is that arc, culminating in the role of man, as presented by him in this new translation:

“The process of evolution not only enlarged the domain of life, it intensified and accelerated the biogenic migration. The formation of the vertebrate skeleton, without a doubt, modified and augmented the migration of atoms of fluorine, in concentrating them, and the skeleton of aquatic invertebrates did the same for the migration of atoms of calcium...

In order to judge it by that which we know of the intensity of the migration of calcium, sparked off by the creation of the higher invertebrate skeleton, for example, that of mollusks or of corral, in relationship to those of the microscopic organisms, whose calcium is disengaged, in the end, by water, it is necessary to admit an extreme and brusque augmentation of the intensity of its migration since the creation of these new forms of life.

At the beginning of Paleozoic life, and maybe at the Cambrian period, another very important fact relative to the biogenic migration of atoms calls itself to our attention: it is the radical transformation of the sylvan vegetation of the continents. The process of gradual perfection of these organisms, of which the full blooming seemed to be attained, its point culminating, in the Tertiary Epoque, still prolonged itself in the course of further geological epochs. This process corresponds to the conquest by life of a new and immense domain, that of the troposphere. The appearance of forests, exuberant with life, led a great change in the migration of atoms of oxygen, of carbon, of hydrogen, and simultaneously in that of all the living atoms of which the cyclical movement, first of all, had to become more intense, because the forests, especially the forests with trees whose leaves persisted through new geological epochs, concentrated life, as much vegetable as animal, in proportions unknown of up until then. If we compare from this point of view the spore-bearing forests of primitive times to our tertiary forests of spermatophytes, the difference of the intensity of the biogenic migration will seem enormous to us.

During the Mesozoic epoch, a new fact, the appearance of birds, augmented the intensity of the biogenic migration of atoms, and life again enlarged its domain. It was not until the Mesozoic epoch and the Tertiary epoch that flying organisms attained their fullest development, in the form of birds. Two very important biogeochemical functions attach themselves to these two new forms of life. We can hardly conclude that there is a relationship between these forms and the flying invertebrates which emerged very long ago, and existed until the beginning of the Paleozoic epoch, although these flying invertebrates, in particular, had fulfilled these functions and fulfill them still to this day. In any case, only the creation of the birds gave an impetus to the mechanism of the biosphere which it had not had earlier.

In the mechanism of the biosphere, in the biogenic migration of atoms, the birds, as well as the other flying organisms, play an immense role for the exchange of matter between the solid Earth and the water, principally between the continent and the ocean! The role of the birds is in contrast to that of the rivers, but as far as the quantity of mass transported, it comes close. The migrations of birds renders this role even more important in that which concerns the biogenic circulation of atoms. The appearance of these species of winged vertebrates not only created new forms of biogenic migration that affected the chemical balance of the sea and of the continent, but it also provoked a new wave of biogenic migration in the course of the history of discrete bodies, in particular, for that of phosphorus#. The winged invertebrates, the insects, did not play as important a role. It is true that the flying saurians (reptiles) appeared before the birds, but everything indicates that they did not exercise actions comparable to theirs. The appearance of birds appears to be linked to that of new types of forests, or in any case seems to have coincided with them.

The role of civilized humanity, from the point of view of the biogenic migration of atoms, was infinitely more important than that played by the other vertebrates. Here, for the first time in the history of the Earth, the biogenic migration due to the development of the action of technology was able to have a greater significance than the biogenic migration determined by the mass of living matter. At the same time, the biogenic migrations changed for all of the elements. The process was rapidly effected in a relatively insignificant amount of time. The face of the earth transformed itself in an unrecognizable way, and yet, it is clear that the era of this transformation has only just begun."

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