Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New York Times: End the University as We Know It

Here is a recent NYTIMES article I've come across that is pertinant to our world (and especially for anyone in the flux of academic transitions). The suggestion for reorganizing of study disciplines in terms of general basic interests, ie Mind, Body, Time, Space etc., is especially intriguing and pertinent I think. I wish my undergrad years had more of an interdisciplinary focus as it is!

Enjoy! -Lisa

End the University as We Know It

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work “The Conflict of the Faculties,” wrote that universities should “handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.”

Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization. keep reading...

Repeatability of behaviour

Last lab meeting we discussed behavioural repeatability.
Now, I just found a recent review by Alison Bell, Shala Hankison and Kate Laskowski entitled "The repeatability of behaviour: a meta-analysis".


There is increasing interest in individual differences in animal behaviour. Recent research now suggests that an individual's behaviour, once considered to be plastic, may be more predictable than previously thought. Here, we take advantage of the large number of studies that have estimated the repeatability of various behaviours to evaluate whether there is good evidence for consistent individual differences in behaviour and to answer some outstanding questions about possible factors that can influence repeatability. Specifically, we use meta-analysis to ask whether different types of behaviours were more repeatable than others, and if repeatability estimates depended on taxa, sex, age, field versus laboratory, the number of measures and the interval between measures. Some of the overall patterns that were revealed by this analysis were that repeatability estimates were higher in the field compared to the laboratory and repeatability was higher when the interval between observations was short. Mate preference behaviour was one of the best studied but least repeatable behaviours. Our findings prompt new insights into the relative flexibility of different types of behaviour and offer suggestions for the design and analysis of future research.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

And we got another journal cover….introducing the lizard Podarcis gaigeae

Isolation and characterization of polymorphic microsatellite loci for the Skyros wall lizard Podarcis gaigeae (Squamata: Lacertidae)


This paper got published in the April 2009 issue of the fine journal Molecular Ecology Resources. My co-authors and I have developed fifteen new microsatellite markers for Anna’s PhD study species Podarcis gaigaea, the Skyros Wall lizard. Anna is studying mainland and island populations of Podarcis gaigeae near the Skyros Peninsula in Greece, and one of her objectives is to estimate the rate of gene flow and genetic differentiation between populations. Previous molecular work using eleven microsatellites showed that although the eleven markers were able to distinguish between different island populations, they did not provide the necessary power to distinguish between the mainland populations. Therefore, we set out to develop additional novel polymorphic microsatellite markers for P. gaigeae in an attempt to resolve the population structure of the mainland populations, and to estimate in more detail the magnitude and direction of gene flow between mainland and island populations of this species. Preliminary analyses in STRUCTURE have shown that, with the help of these new microsatellites, Anna can now distinguish between mainland populations.


Fifteen polymorphic markers were developed from a microsatellite-enriched library for the lizard Podarcis gaigeae. The loci were checked for variability in 68 individuals from a population on the island of Skyros, Greece. The number of alleles ranged from 3 to 23 per locus and expected heterozygosity from 0.29 and 0.94. Most markers were also polymorphic in three closely related Podarcis species, namely P. erhardi, P. taurica and P. milensis. The markers will be used to examine gene flow and differentiation of island and mainland populations of P. gaigeae.

Lab meeting, Wed. the 29th at 10:15

Lab Meeting Spectacular!!!

In lab meeting this week, we'll watch "Life in Cold Blood", by David Attenborough. It's about amphibians and reptiles, and the section on lizard thermoregulation should provide much inspiration about the possible uses of a thermal image camera.

Plus, it's just cool.

Maren will bring the DVD, and I'll bring some popcorn.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Density-dependent male mating harassment, female resistance and male mimicry

In keeping with the last two posts Erik has asked me to write a small blog spot introducing our recent Am Nat paper. I am pleased with the outcome as there was not only a lot of work getting the data and writing the paper, but also in convincing the editors and referees that this paper deserves to be in Am Nat. We were lucky this time as there was only one round of reviews, although the associate editor did a good job of ensuring we worked for our spot. It is easy to over look the amount of work and time needed to get papers published after writing the final draft. There is certainly no such thing as a free lunch. Even after jumping through fiery hoops, there is still the chance they can turn around a shoot you down.
I am yet to find a large error, this is mainly due to not looking over it since it was released. Please don't point any out to me, let me have a few weeks of ignorance. 
So here is the Abstract:
Genetic variation in female resistance and tolerance to male mating harassment can affect the outcome of sexually antagonistic mating interactions. We investigated female mating rates and male mating harassment in natural populations of a damselfly (Ischnura elegans). This damselfly species has a heritable sex‐limited polymorphism in females, where one of the morphs is a male mimic (androchrome females). The three female morphs differ in mating rates, and these differences are stable across populations and years. However, the degree of premating resistance toward male mating attempts varied across generations and populations. Male mating harassment of the female morphs changed in a density‐dependent fashion, suggesting that male mate preferences are plastic and vary with the different morph densities. We quantified morph differences in male mating harassment and female fecundity, using path analysis and structural equation modeling. We found variation between the morphs in the fitness consequences of mating, with the fecundity of one of the nonmimetic morphs declining with increasing male mating harassment. However, androchrome females had lower overall fecundity, presumably reflecting a cost of male mimicry. Density‐dependent male mating harassment on the morphs and fecundity costs of male mimicry are thus likely to contribute to the maintenance of this female polymorphism.

Link to the paper and to the press release (complete with Erik's fantastic photos)

I will also take this opportunity to bring your attention to another lab paper by Jessica and I. This is in the early view slots for Ecological Entomology. It is the first time that Erik let go of the reins and let his first two students run free. Hopefully we didn't let him down.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Understanding the "Egalitarian Revolution" in human social evolution

Inspired by the previous bloggpost, here is some other news about a recent publication in this research laboratory. In the lastest issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution I have a so-called Research Update about a recently published model by theoretical evolutionary biologist Sergey Gavrilets and colleagues which deals with the evolution of cooperation in humans. One striking aspect of humans that makes us different from our closest relatives, the great apes, is that our society is less hierarchical and hence more egalitarian, and the evolutionary transition from a great ape society to ours is something that took place during the Pleiostocene and this transition is often called "The Egalitarian Revolution".

The TREE-article comments uponGavrilets et als' new model that aims to explain this evolutionary transition, as well as some recent experimental studies by behavioural economist Ernst Fehr who have done some elegant work on human cooperation and "altruistic punishment". Here is the Abstract for my TREE-article:

"Humans are unique among animals in cooperating in large groups of unrelated individuals, with a high degree of resource sharing. These features challenge traditional evolutionary theories built on kin selection or reciprocity. A recent theoretical model by Gavrilets and colleagues takes a fresh look at the ‘egalitarian revolution’ that separates humans from our closest relatives, the great apes. The model suggests that information from within-group conflicts leads to the emergence of cooperative alliances and social networks."

One of the original articles discussed in this TREE-paper, the model by Sergey Gavrilets et al., was originally published in PLoS ONE, under the title "Dynamics of alliance formation and the Egalitarian Revolution." I had the pleasure of being an academic editor of this highly interesting piece of work. Here is the abstract for that paper:


Arguably the most influential force in human history is the formation of social coalitions and alliances (i.e., long-lasting coalitions) and their impact on individual power. Understanding the dynamics of alliance formation and its consequences for biological, social, and cultural evolution is a formidable theoretical challenge. In most great ape species, coalitions occur at individual and group levels and among both kin and non-kin. Nonetheless, ape societies remain essentially hierarchical, and coalitions rarely weaken social inequality. In contrast, human hunter-gatherers show a remarkable tendency to egalitarianism, and human coalitions and alliances occur not only among individuals and groups, but also among groups of groups. These observations suggest that the evolutionary dynamics of human coalitions can only be understood in the context of social networks and cognitive evolution.

Methodology/Principal Findings

Here, we develop a stochastic model describing the emergence of networks of allies resulting from within-group competition for status or mates between individuals utilizing dyadic information. The model shows that alliances often emerge in a phase transition-like fashion if the group size, awareness, aggressiveness, and persuasiveness of individuals are large and the decay rate of individual affinities is small. With cultural inheritance of social networks, a single leveling alliance including all group members can emerge in several generations.


We propose a simple and flexible theoretical approach for studying the dynamics of alliance emergence applicable where game-theoretic methods are not practical. Our approach is both scalable and expandable. It is scalable in that it can be generalized to larger groups, or groups of groups. It is expandable in that it allows for inclusion of additional factors such as behavioral, genetic, social, and cultural features. Our results suggest that a rapid transition from a hierarchical society of great apes to an egalitarian society of hunter-gatherers (often referred to as “egalitarian revolution”) could indeed follow an increase in human cognitive abilities. The establishment of stable group-wide egalitarian alliances creates conditions promoting the origin of cultural norms favoring the group interests over those of individuals.

Closing the ring: historical biogeography of the salamander ring species Ensatina eschscholtzii

"Science has not been the same since Kuchta et al. 2009," says Erik Svensson 4 April 2009.


Aim The salamander Ensatina eschscholtzii Gray is a classic example of a ring species, or a species that has expanded around a central barrier to form a secondary contact characterized by species-level divergence. In the original formulation of the ring species scenario, an explicit biogeographical model was proposed to account for the occurrence of intraspecific sympatry between two subspecies in southern California (the ‘southern closure’ model). Here we develop an alternative ring species model that is informed by the geomorphological development of the California Coast Ranges, and which situates the point of ring closure in the Monterey Bay region of central coastal California (the ‘Monterey closure’ model). Our study has two aims. The first is to use phylogenetic methods to evaluate the two competing biogeographical models. The second is to describe patterns of phylogeographical diversity throughout the range of the Ensatina complex, and to compare these patterns with previously published molecular systematic data.

Location Western North America, with a focus on the state of California, USA.

Methods We obtained mitochondrial DNA sequence data from 385 individuals from 224 populations. A phylogeny was inferred using Bayesian techniques, and the geographical distributions of haplotypes and clades were mapped. The two biogeographical ring species models were tested against our Bayesian topology, including the associated Bayesian 95% credible set of trees.

Results High levels of phylogeographical diversity were revealed, especially in central coastal and northern California. Our Bayesian topology contradicts the Monterey closure model; however, 0.08% of the trees in our Bayesian 95% credible set are consistent with this model. In contrast, the classic ring species biogeographical model (the southern closure model) is consistent with our Bayesian topology, as were 99.92% of the trees in our 95% credible set.

Main conclusions Our Bayesian phylogenetic analysis most strongly supports the classic ring species model, modified to accommodate an improved understanding of the complex geomorphological evolution of the California Coast Ranges. In addition, high levels of phylogeographical diversity in central and northern California were identified, which is consistent with the striking levels of allozymic differentiation reported previously from those regions.

This paper can be found on the Journal of Biogeography web page, or taken from my web page.

My comments: Erik suggested I make this post, in part because I managed to score a cover shot showing the world our critter. Ain't he cute?? This is the Yellow-eyed salamander, Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica, collected from Ice Cream Grade in Santa Cruz, California.

What I like best about this paper is the very explicit geological reconstruction (which was really difficult to decipher from the geology literature!), and the first ever alternative biogeographic scenario for the formation of the ring species complex. We end up (mostly) rejecting the new model, but it was not a scam: this new model really does make a lot more sense when you consider the geomorphological evolution of the California landscape.

What I dislike about this paper is that I misspelled "Unites States" in Figure 1. Sigh.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Genetics of pygmy evolution in Africa

Some of you might be interested in a recent study about the evolutionary origins of African human pygmy populations, which is discussed in this bloggpost. A recent study have investigated the molecular genetic history of African pygmy populations and concluded that they are not secondarily derived from the farming populations of the Bantu people. Instead, the different and the isolated pygmy populations in the African rainforests are historical relicts of a greater contiguous population of an ancestral hunter-gather society that was split up in to different fragmented populations when the African Bantu people expanded about 10 000 years ago.

The different pygmy populations in Africa have thus not evolved their short body stature in parallel. Rather their phenotypic traits are traits that they inherited from their ancestors. The pygmy populations and the Bantu people have been separated for at least 60 000 years. The agricultural revolution took place the last 10 000 years, and when the Bantu people brought agriculture to sub-saharan Africa, their population sizes exploded. This is because the carrying capacity of agricultural populations is considerably higher than for hunter-gather societies. which is not very surprising. After all, by using agriculture you can feed a much larger population per unit area than you could by hunting.

The pygmies were thus marginalized by the rapidly expanding Bantu-farmers, and their once large population was split up in to several smaller fragmented populations. The once more widespread pygmies are today more less isolated from each other in the deep African rainforest.

As an aside, this is an interesting example of how population genetics, particularly the use of the population genetic software STRUCTURE, can be fruitfully used to infer population histories and population genetic parameters (see figure above). This is something we are also working on in our laboratory, particularly Anna in her studies of Mediterranean Podarcis-lizards.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lab meeting in Darwin on Wednesday 22nd of April at 10.15 am.

Hello everyone,

For next lab meeting I would be very happy to get some feed-back on a manuscript that I have been working on for a while. The manuscript is about animal personalities, and more specifically we have examined boldness and how this can be influenced by factors such as predation pressure, sex, population origin and body size.

The interest in animal personality and behavioural syndromes is rapidly growing and several very interesting papers have been published the last couple of years (e.g. Sih et al. 2004, Bell 2005 and Réale et al. 2007). Two behavioural ecologists that have contributed a lot to the field are Andy Sih and Alison Bell.

That´s why I am very excited that Andy Sih will be visiting us next week! Andy has been invited by the PdD-students at the Dep. of Ecology. On Thursday (23/4), Andy will present a talk about behavioural syndromes, that will take place in the “Blue Hall” (bottom floor in the Ecology Building) at 14.00. The title of his talk is:

“Behavioral syndromes: an evolutionary and ecological overview”

He will present an additional talk on Friday (24/4) 15.00 in the Darwin room at the section for Animal Ecology.

I think it will be two really exciting talks!

I’ll e-mail the manuscript to you during the weekend. If you haven’t got any e-mail by Monday please contact me ( and I will send it again.
Any fika volunteer for Wednesday?

See you!


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lab meeting in the Darwin room on Wednesday the 15th of April at 10:15am

Hello everybody,

We have picked two papers for the upcoming lab meeting next week. The first one is by Masafumi Nozawaa, Yoshiyuki Suzukia, and Masatoshi Nei and is entitled Reliabilities of identifying positive selection by the branch-site and the site-prediction methods’

Natural selection operating in protein-coding genes is often studied by examining the ratio (ω) of the rates of nonsynonymous to synonymous nucleotide substitution. The branch-site method (BSM) based on a likelihood ratio test is one of such tests to detect positive selection for a predetermined branch of a phylogenetic tree. However, because the number of nucleotide substitutions involved is often very small, we conducted a computer simulation to examine the reliability of BSM in comparison with the small-sample method (SSM) based on Fisher's exact test. The results indicate that BSM often generates false positives compared with SSM when the number of nucleotide substitutions is ≈80 or smaller. Because the ω value is also used for predicting positively selected sites, we examined the reliabilities of the site-prediction methods, using nucleotide sequence data for the dim-light and color vision genes in vertebrates. The results showed that the site-prediction methods have a low probability of identifying functional changes of amino acids experimentally determined and often falsely identify other sites where amino acid substitutions are unlikely to be important. This low rate of predictability occurs because most of the current statistical methods are designed to identify codon sites with high ω values, which may not have anything to do with functional changes. The codon sites showing functional changes generally do not show a high ω value. To understand adaptive evolution, some form of experimental confirmation is necessary.

And the second paper is by Thomas Lenormand, Denis Roze and François Rousset and is entitled ’Stochasticity in evolution’

The debate over the role of stochasticity is central in evolutionary biology, often summarised by whether or not evolution is predictable or repeatable. Here we distinguish three types of stochasticity: stochasticity of mutation and variation, of individual life histories and of environmental change. We then explain when stochasticity matters in evolution, distinguishing four broad situations: stochasticity contributes to maladaptation or limits adaptation; it drives evolution on flat fitness landscapes (evolutionary freedom); it might promote jumps from one fitness peak to another (evolutionary revolutions); and it might shape the selection pressures themselves. We show that stochasticity, by directly steering evolution, has become an essential ingredient of evolutionary theory beyond the classical WrightFisher or neutralistselectionist debates.

You can contact me ( if you have problems retrieving the pdf files -and I will send them to you.

All the best and happy reading, Maren

PS: Any Fika volunteers? Please send me an email if you are bringing something to the meeting.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thoughts from a sexual selection workshop and presentation of an article idea.

As Erik mentioned earlier, I and Josefin met Janne Kotiaho during his visit here for a short discussion on biases in sexual selection/sexual conflict research. We actually met Janne already at the workshop on gender biases in sexual selection research in Uppsala last October, which some of you may remember that we, and Åsa Lankinen, participated in. The workshop in Uppsala was organised by Malin Ah-King and Ingrid Ahnesjö, who are both evolutionary ecologists, but also have an interest in gender issues. Malin Ah-King has done a post doc at GenNa, which is a centre at Uppsala University where researchers from different fields study what kind of “knowledge about gender and gendered knowledge are produced in the intersection between the natural and cultural sciences”. Also Ingrid Ahnesjö has been involved in GenNa, at least for a shorter period. Invited speaker at the one day workshop was Patricia Gowaty from UCLA who is a feminist evolutionary ecologist. During the workshop she gave two talks on the history of sexual selection and on a neutral sexual selection model she and Steve Hubbell have been (and still are) working on (see Gowaty and Hubbell 2005). The rest of the day was devoted to group discussions.

Participants came from mainly Sweden and Finland but also Switzerland, working with sexual selection and sexual conflict in animals (either with conventional sex roles or with reversed sex roles) and in hermaphrodites (animals and plants). Although the cause for joining the meeting, and the idea of what gender bias in research actually is, differed between participants (which, to be honest, made the discussions sometimes a bit vague) some main problems were outlined. These mainly concerned the sex roles we assign our study objects. E.g. why conventional (active male/passive female) sex roles are applied in sexual selection research and the impact this has on how we perform science, if we have to use conventional sex roles, how sexual selection theory should be applied on hermaphrodites including plants, and how we can overcome our possible preconceptions of how males and females “should” behave.

Our, and Janne’s, impressions from the workshop was that it was indeed interesting and inspiring and especially Janne had received a new way of thinking. What in particular opened Janne’s eyes was how and why we nominate systems that do not behave as “normal” as sex role reversed – because what is actually the “normal” state in nature? We thought that Janne would continue on this topic for his Thursday seminar during his visit to Lund, but instead he gave a very interesting talk on the history of sexual selection, publication biases and how researchers strive towards fitting in the “format” which at the moment leads to publications. He exemplified this with his own critical studies on the lek paradox (paradoxes can’t exist!).

With Janne, besides reflecting on the workshop, we discussed an idea of an article that we are working on. Now we’d also like to present our thoughts here to get your opinions, if any, and receive some (critical) feedback! Emerging from the Uppsala workshop, but also from the recent criticism on sexual selection theory, (see e.g. Clutton-Brock 2007, Kokko and Jennions 2008), we would like to write a comment or a discussion article on potential biases in sexual conflict research. We’d like to ask the question whether some parts in a conflict dynamics may be left out by us researchers (compare e.g. male mate choice) due to our potential preconceptive view of how the sexes should act. For example, in sexual conflict theory both sexes are striving for their own optimum when it comes to mating and reproduction, and if this is made at a cost for the opposite sex there will be a conflict. However, our impression is that it is mainly a female cost that is being searched for in sexual conflict research and that the terminology used, although stemming from a neutral theory, implies that males make the offensive act and females barely defend themselves, without any impact on the male. But if the males are not affected why should they continue an arms-race?

Thus, by starting off with the recent progress and criticism in sexual selection research, we want to investigate and discuss three main issues in sexual conflict research. First, we will investigate what terminology is used in the most cited articles in “sexual conflict” and “sexually antagonistic coevolution”. By doing that we will know which terms have the widest impact in the field. Second, we will discuss how semantics may influence our perception and how it thus may form our thoughts and ideas, and third, we survey all theoretical models made on sexual conflict to see what parameters are incorporated – and thus are given the potential to affect the result; if male cost is never incorporated it will never be of significance and may furthermore not stimulate to empirical research.

We are just at the starting point, currently surveying the litterature, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on this project. We are not saying that our impression is correct (and we don’t even know what we will find yet!), but we’d like to open up for discussions or at least implant some thoughts on this topic. And, as we are speaking of biases, yes, we may be biased as well! J By being interested in gender issues in the human society we may be more prone to think of these topics also in evolutionary science, however, our aim is not a feminist inflammatory speech and hope that it will not be considered as such. We are not aiming for equality in the animal/plant world – it doesn’t matter if conventional sex roles actually are the truth and that all female individuals are coy, that is not the point. Instead we think that by considering these questions and potential preconceptions one may discover interesting evolutionary aspects that otherwise may be overlooked.

Have a nice weekend and enjoy the sun!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The big change: Lessons from down under.

Now I have settled somewhat into my new environment I feel I can post my first blog on the pros and cons I have experienced from changing system and moving abroad for the obligatory post doc position. This is a time of self-discovery and a period when you ask yourself “can I really do this or I am well out of my depth”. It is also done away from family and friends, with an odd feeling that you have been forgotten by those you left behind.

One of the hardest parts of the move has been being the new boy again, the dreaded feeling of neediness and having to ask someone about every small thing you encounter, from simple things such as printer access (this took 3 weeks to fix) and software availability to the large things such as where do I get coffee. I have also found myself feeling like I did when I started my phd. I would leave Erik’s room full of self-doubt and worry after having a myriad of new terms and ideas thrown at me and spend the whole afternoon reading up trying to understand what had just happened, thinking, “what the hell am I doing here”. The real difference now is that this time I have the confidence to say “woah, slow down buddy, what the f**k does that all mean”. Still on the 15th time of doing so, self-doubt does start to rear it’s head again as I ask myself “why am I still doing this to myself”.

Now, I find myself starting to get the lingo, even occasionally dropping the odd line into conversions, “yeah, isolines, tip the females, pooter the males, great”.

Having to learn a new system in also about coming to terms with both the advantages and disadvantages. The realisation that working with these animals in the field is not the cakewalk I imagined has been the biggest eye opener. I'm still a little shaky on id’ing the little blighters, and I have been amazed by the variation both among and within species caught at the bait traps.


Having survived this far I decided it was time to test my skills in the field and last Sunday I went on my first field trip to collect wild females from the first population on the list. The objective was simple: collect as many D.serrata females as possible. The population was a small village called Red Rock, which is 30km north of Coffs Harbour. It is a beautiful place on the coast, right next to a national park, with an array of novel animal and plant species (we saw a ray from the bank of the estuary on the first evening). After a 5 hour drive down, I put the traps out on the Sunday evening, in shorts and t-shirt, bothered only by only a few mosquitoes and generally feeling quite pleased with myself. One of the down sides of working in Sweden was the short, frustrating field seasons. I looked forward to working on a species where they were found in the field for most of the year (it is a little cold for them over the winter) and can be worked on in the lab year round. I went to bed that night looking forward to my first day collecting, and as I dosed off to sleep I started to hear the tapping of rain on the window.  I woke several times that night; each time I could hear the hammering of rain against the window. By morning the place looked bleak and grey, rain continued to fall, and not your soft European rain. This continued for 2 days……in fact when we left the area it had seen around 100mm of rain in consecutive nights. Coffs harbour had been closed off, roads washed away and the place considered a natural disaster zone. BUT, the Drosophila were still there, over 2 days of catching I managed to get the numbers I needed. They may not be as pretty as damselflies, but they are a little harder. The downside was that the rainy weather meant catching them sucked, as we had to fend off 100’s of mosquitoes and leaches (including the one in the picture, that I found after it had been munching on my belly) as we walked along the path that had quickly become a river.

The realisation that fieldwork on this species may be a little harder than I expected does not detract from the possibilities switching system has given me. Yes, there is a period when you have to learn the basics all over again, alone and forgotten, but in the long run this is a worthwhile exercise that should be embraced by all those who get the chance.


So the final lessons from this piece…. It is all just swings and roundabouts init, swings and roundabouts.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reflections on lab meeting this week

Last week I tried to make my first post, and had a blowout. Here's take #2, with thanks to Erik and Maren for walking me through the details.

I can remember, as a graduate student, reading detailed papers on biomechanics and rolling my eyes a bit. We read a fair number of them in lab meeting (also many papers on development). Why all the measurements, all the physics, all the mechanism? I was a systematist, and a biogeographer, and an evolutionary biologist interested in the ecological setting of diversification. Do I need to understand in detail how a salamander sticks out its tongue (a far more complex endeavor than many would imagine), or, now, how a damselfly wing functions (perhaps an even harder problem)?

In short, the answer is "yes," because we have to study the evolution of something, and when one considers mechanism our understanding is greatly enriched. This perspective is explicitly developed in a paper by Autumn, Ryan, and Wake (2002) "Integrating historical and mechanistic biology enhances the study of adaptation". We read this paper a few months ago in lab meeting. To be fair, views on the paper were mixed. Yes, it was too much a response to a couple controversial papers by Sherman and Reeve, and it was overly pessimistic regarding the value of studies of selection in nature. But, it was also, in my view, a superb, empirical demonstration of the importance of mechanism and phylogeny. The authors show, very clearly, that when studying adaptation, one is one shaky ground when when one ignores such things. In the end, convincing studies of adaptation need to be integrative in scope (I would include studies of selection in nature here, too).

And that is why papers on how an isopod swims, or a limb develops, or a dragonfly flies are important.