Richard Irwin (“Dick”) Vane-Wright

Richard Irwin (“Dick”) Vane-Wright

Honorary Professor of Taxonomy, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE); Honorary Professor at University of Kent

From 1961 Vane-Wright worked as an entomologist at the Natural History Museum, London, retiring in 2004 as head of the former Department of Entomology. In 2006 he was appointed Honorary Professor of Taxonomy at the University of Kent. A specialist on tropical butterflies and an early practitioner of Hennigian phylogenetic systematics, Vane-Wright was also influenced by the work of C.H. Waddington, and has long held the anti-reductionist view that whole organism behaviour is a key factor in the process of adaptation. If purposive organismal agency is not taken into account, our understanding of evolution will always be inadequate.

He is currently a Scientific Associate at the Department of Life Sciences at the Natural History Museum, London. He is also a visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Geographical and Life Sciences department at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Profile continued

Lifetime track in biology

2007 –                  Honorary Professor of Taxonomy, DICE, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK

2005 – 2008         Fellow, UK National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts

2004 –                  Scientific Associate, Natural History Museum, London, UK

2003 –                  Doctor of Science (honoris causa), University of Copenhagen

1998 – 2004         Keeper of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London, UK

1993 –                  Fellow of Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin

1990 – 1997         Founder and Head of Biogeography & Conservation Laboratory, Natural History Museum, London, UK

1984 – 1990         Deputy Head of Entomology Department, Natural History Museum [BMNH], London, UK

1967 – 1984        Head of Lepidoptera: Rhopalocera Section, Entomology Department, British Museum (Natural History), London

1963 – 1967         BSc (1st Class Honours) Zoology, University College London, London, UK

1961 – 1963         Assistant (Scientific), Entomology Department, British Museum (Natural History), London, UK

1960 – 1962         ‘A’-level zoology and botany

1949 –                   Interest in insects awakened on 7th birthday


Biological interests

* Systematist, specialising on taxonomy, biogeography, general biology and evolution of butterflies
* History of entomology, especially 18th century
* Philosophy of science, with special reference to organic evolution
* Since 1990, also specialising on biodiversity and conservation evaluation
* Since 2005, funded by NESTA, also specialising on worldviews, values and attitudes to biodiversity

Currently Vane-Wright is engaged on research for a diverse portfolio of books, including a short series on individual contemporary British artists inspired by nature, on the purpose and function of taxonomy, on butterfly biology, on the higher classification of butterflies, on particular 18th century entomologists, and, most substantially, a work on worldviews, values and attitudes to biodiversity. He is also involved with collaborative research on the systematics of various groups of tropical butterflies, butterflies of specific regions, and the biodiversity of beetles and midges in an urban park. In addition, he recently completed an editorial assignment for the Linnean Society of London concerning the role of behaviour in organic evolution – which according to him, in contrast to creationism or neo-Darwinian genetic hegemony, represents the “third way”.



". . . there is surely a need to continue investigating Baldwin’s ‘third-way’: the role of the organism’s own behaviour as a key ‘creative’ factor in the evolutionary process."

(Vane-Wright, R.I. 2011. Whatever happened to the Organic Selectionists? Antenna, Chiswell Green 35(2): 57–60. (p.59))