Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897)
AuthorMoeller, Karla T.
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Edward Drinker Cope studied fossils and anatomy in the US in the late nineteenth century. Based on his observations of skeletal morphology, Cope developed a novel mechanism to explain the law of parallelism, the idea that developing organisms successively pass through stages resembling their ancestors. Others had proposed the addition of new body forms at the end of an individual organism's developed as a mechanism through which new species arose, but those proposals relied on changes in the lengths of gestation or incubation. Cope proposed that a change in the growth rate of an embryo or fetus would allow the formation of new body forms while gestation or incubation periods remained constant. Thus, the growth of an embryo or fetus must become faster or slower to alter the number of stages during growth. Many paleontologists and geologists of the time, including Henry Fairfield Osborn and Louis Agassiz, accepted Cope's mechanisms of evolution as alternatives to natural selection as the causes generating new species, yet Cope proposed his mechanism solely as a way by which new genera arise. He advocated the neo-Lamarckian theory that new species evolve through the inheritance of acquired characteristics.