Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Greetings from "Speciation-meeting" in Vienna!
Together with several other colleagues from Lund, Sweden and other countries, our lab was well-represented at the first European Speciation Conference, organized by the Institute for Advanced System Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna (Austria). This three-day conference has gathered a number of researchers working on the problems of speciation, both theoretically and empirically. A list of talks from the conference can be found here.
The first evening of the conference, we enjoyed nice Austrian food (LOTS of meat!) and good wine, and of course the company of many of our colleagues. On the picture above you can see how happy we are after tasting some great wine. From left to right you see Anna Runemark (Lund University), Fredrik Haas (currently at Oslo University), Erik Svensson (Lund University), Andrew Hendry (McGill University, Canada), Anna Qvarnström (Uppsala University) and Jörgen Ripa (Lund University).Although this time there was a Scandinavian bias at the table, we have also of course interacted and entertained ourselves with some other great colleagues, such as Maria Servedio as well as former McArthur student and legendary ecologist Mike Rosenzweig.
Personally, I mostly enjoyed the talk by Daniel Bolnick (University of Texas at Austin), about the rarity of sympatric speciation in sticklebacks, which was somewhat heretical in a conference that has been so dominated by the "Adaptive Dynamics"-school, led by Ulf Dieckmann at IIASA, where the importance of sympatric speciation has been vastly exaggerated, in relation to its real importance in natural populations (in my personal opinion). If sympatric speciation was as common as these models of "evolutionary branching" indicate, there would essentially be a new species on every twig of a bush, which there clearly isn't. This very fact in itself suggests (at least to me) that constraints on sympatric speciation are likely to operate and be important, and that the asexual modelling approach in the adaptive dynamics school has underestimated the severity of recombination.
As a primarily empirically oriented evolutionary biologist, I see a major weakness of the Adaptive Dynamics-school in that their models are only weakly connected to empirical work and the parameters they include in their models are not as natural to estimate as the classical and well-established estimates typically used by field evolutionary biologists that are derived from quantitative genetics (i. e. selection coefficients). In the absence of such transparent models with parameters defined in an empirically meaningful way, the jury is still out whether adaptive and sympatric speciation is really important in nature, or whether it is mainly a phenomena that gains more attention from theoreticians than it deserves from an empirical point of view of practicing naturalists and field biologists.