Recognizing Vladimir Nabokov's Legacy in Science: Where We Are Today; Where We Go From Here


Nabokov's accomplishments in science are reviewed and assessment made of the direction of future scholarly interest in his work. Because Nabokov's 1940s seminal work on blue butterflies ("blues") of the world was not continued by others until the 1990s, the breadth of his accomplishments has only been recently recognized. Nabokov was a pioneer anatomist, originating many now standard anatomical terms and methods. He was one of the first lepidopterists to study the entire genital apparatus of butterflies in both sexes, to consider North American butterflies in terms of worldwide relationships, to argue for a balanced biological and morphological species definition, to seek a genealogical approach to classification, to stress the importance of life cycle and ecological studies in evaluating species, and to opine that biogeographic assumptions of his day seemed unsupported by anatomical studies of blues. All Nabokov's taxonomic works reflect these interests and expertise but his seminal studies of Latin American blues, where he contributed nearly the entire classification still used today, are the hallmark of his achievement. Modern DNA studies of North American blues support Nabokov's conclusions; DNA studies of his Latin American blues are in progress. Future interest in Nabokov's scientific work will most likely focus on assessing his theoretical and philosophical views and appreciating the multidisciplinary element of his intellect.