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11 APRIL 2014 VOL 344 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org 154
EXHIBITION and their (very low) probability of surviving the journey and establishing themselves
far from the home site (7). Further refinements of dispersal kernels could incorporate
trade winds (8) and other underlying mechanisms (9). Such a mechanistic modeling
approach (9) is especially promising for raft-ing, the primary mechanism of transoceanic
dispersal highlighted in The Monkey’s Voyage—for which uncertainty can be reduced
by incorporating information on the properties of the rafts as well as on the passengers, wind drifts, and oceanic currents (10).
Furthermore, there exists a wide spectrum
of dispersal-vicariance scenarios. Historical
biogeography should go beyond assigning
cases to these two extreme alternatives and
should instead quantify their relative importance. The scope of investigation should also
be expanded beyond the hallmark examples
of terrestrial species moving across oceans,
because long-distance movements of marine
and aerial species, as well as those of terrestrial species over land, have also greatly contributed to shaping the geographical distribution of the world’s biota.
Considering the probability of an explanation is essentially the common practice of
nearly all aspects of our life. Yet, it is not only
the histories of life and human societies that
have largely been shaped by unlikely black
swan events. Each of our lives is a product
of an idiosyncratic chain of events, which
can be considered highly improbable yet an
evident reality. The central arguments of The
Monkey’s Voyage appear to be increasingly
well recognized nowadays in such diverse
fields as statistics, economics, engineering,
computer sciences, earth sciences, chemistry, physics, and biology. It is time to proceed beyond broad awareness of the general
concepts to develop quantitative frameworks
to better understand the unexpected—and to
cope with the high impact of rare and unpredictable “monkey’s voyage” events.
1. C. Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural
Selection (John Murray, London, 1859).
2. A. R. Wallace, Island Life (Macmillan, London, 1880).
3. G. Nelson, J. Hist. Biol. 11, 269 (1978).
4. N. N. Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly
Improbable (Random House, New York, 2010).
5. J. Klafter, I. M. Sokolov, First Steps in Random Walks:
From Tools to Applications (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford,
6. V. Mendéz et al., Stochastic Foundations in Movement
Ecology: Anomalous Diffusion, Front Propagation and
Random Searches (Springer, Heidelberg, 2014).
7. R. Nathan, Science 313, 786 (2006).
8. J. Muñoz et al., Science 304, 1144 (2004).
9. R. Nathan et al., Trends Ecol. Evol. 23, 638 (2008).
10. M. Thiel, L. Gutow, Oceanogr. Mar. Biol. 42, 181 (2005).
Charles III of Spain (1716–1788) was at heart a scientist. As an Enlightenment despot, he conceived the museum of
the Prado in Madrid as a place
where arts and sciences would
be united. Unfortunately, his
death and the Peninsular War
(1808–1814) intervened, and
his original notion of a royal
natural history cabinet was
eclipsed by the magnificence
of Spanish and Netherlandish
paintings. Perhaps it’s arrogant
to try to resurrect the notion of
the Prado as a cabinet of curios-ities, but contemporary Spanish artist Miguel
Ángel Blanco has had the temerity to insert a
selection of installations of natural objects in
direct response to the great paintings.
Blanco has emplaced his 22 “interven-
tions” with delicacy, because after all most
visitors come to puzzle over Velázquez’s Las
Meninas and do not want to be distracted by
an albino sparrow. Or they would prefer to
sorrow with Juan de Flandes’ Crucifixion
rather than inspect the gems at the foot of
the cross. Nor would they want to be long
deflected from Goya’s stunning Witches’
Sabbath to admire the anatomy of the hags’
familiars (bat skeleton,
cobra, toads, salamander, and
moose hoof) displayed, many
in jars of formalin, below.
Although the stuffed Veragua bull staring at its feminine counterpart in Peter Paul
Rubens’ Rape of Europa certainly has presence and the
wolf-whistle calls of birds
of paradise giving voice to
Frans Snyders’ Concert of
Birds do echo down the long gallery, maybe
the intrusions are too polite. And I am not
sure Blanco’s approach entirely works—in
part, because his pieces are so dwarfed by
the splendor of the Prado’s permanent collection. Nevertheless, his project succeeds
in prompting visitors to look again and to
notice how very often natural objects were
used as props and symbols in great paintings
by grand masters. – Caroline Ash
by Miguel Ángel Blanco
Museo Nacional del Prado,
Madrid. Through 27 April
“Nature and Art Beneath One Roof”
Miguel Ángel Blanco’s The Veragua Bull. Rubens’ The Rape of Europa (1628–29) and Bos taurus. 10.1126/science.1250904