Indirect allusions to Darwin's theory of evolution are a motif in the novel. For example, in Chapter 2, London describes how Buck's latent instincts are reawakened by his new, harsher environment:
And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down.
London was deeply interested in Darwin's theory of evolution, which held that species slowly develop new traits over time based on natural selection. Any given species naturally has some variation within its population, and members of the species whose traits are best adapted for survival in their environment are most likely to live long enough to reproduce. The environment can thus nudge a species to develop in a particular way, all through chance. Species that are alive today can be traced back to species that were alive long, long ago; any differences between the ancestors and descendants can be explained through the slow, incremental change the species underwent through interaction with the environment.
In this passage, London imagines that Buck's new environment allows him to undergo a kind of reverse evolution. Removed from domesticity and placed in more "wild" surroundings, Buck's mind and body begin to behave more like those of "wild dogs [that] ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down." London is building on Darwin's theory, imagining that our environment is so impactful that new surroundings can awaken new physiological and behavioral traits within a single transplanted organism. This is not exactly within the scope of Darwin's theory, but it is within the scope of the sociological idea that our environment determines the kind of people we become. Throughout the novel, Darwin's scientific theory of evolution helps prop up London's naturalism: these subtle allusions to Darwinian theory help London suggest that in order to help humans become the best versions of themselves, we need to cultivate a social and political environment that allows for this development. If the social and political world is too "wild" or violent, humans will adapt accordingly.
In Chapter 6, London uses an idiom alluding to the cultures of American Indian and First Nations peoples in the Northwest:
That winter, at Dawson, Buck performed another exploit, not so heroic, perhaps, but one that put his name many notches higher on the totem-pole of Alaskan fame.
A totem pole is a tall, elaborately carved structure that can hold significance in a variety of ways. It might tell a story, either mythological or concerning real people. It might be carved as an art piece, with aesthetic form in mind. It might appear outside the house of an important person or inside a house as part of its structural support. It might appear at a border or a grave. It might even be used as part of a justice proceeding, appearing in a prominent community location with carvings intended to publicly shame someone for wrongdoing.
European settlers have long misinterpreted and simplified the many and varied forms and meanings of totem poles. The idea that the most powerful and meaningful symbols appear at the top of a totem pole is one such simplification. There is not necessarily a hierarchy of symbols on a totem pole. If there is some kind of hierarchy, some cultures place the most significant symbols at the bottom, where they are supports for the rest of the iconography. European settlers have nonetheless often persisted in the idea that there is a top-down hierarchy to any totem pole's iconography.
This misunderstanding is in fact so persistent that, even outside the context of describing actual totem poles, the appropriative language of being "high on the totem pole" functions as an idiom meaning "powerful." The more common idiomatic (and equally appropriative) expression "low man on the totem pole" gained popularity a few decades after London wrote The Call of the Wild, when a comedian used it as the title of a book. This second expression is a way of ironically commenting on someone's low social status, and it is generally considered offensive. Likewise, London is using the language of being "higher on the totem-pole of Alaskan fame" in an idiomatic way to describe Buck's ascendance within a hierarchy. The idiom is thematic given that Buck is living and working in Alaska, which is often associated with totem poles, but there is no real totem pole at play in the novel. The expression relies on the reader's prior understanding (or, more precisely, misunderstanding) of how totem poles work.