Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lab-meeting on why and how to estimate components of reproductive isolation

This coming Wednesday (November 2, 2011, 13.00), our lab-meeting will be dedicated to the Why and How to estimate components of pre- and postmating isolation, starting with a key paper and method developed by Douglas Schemske's group, which you can download here. This paper was published in 2003 in Evolution, i. e. fairly recently, but the method has already become popular. Here is an empirical application to birds, a study on crossbills by Craig Benkman's group, which you can download here, and here is another empirical application to damselflies by Adolfo Cordero's group, which you can download here.

I suggest that we read the plant paper by Schemske's group in detail, as it is a key publication where the method was presented. This paper has been cited 166 times, quite a sign of it being an important paper.  Then we also read, although more extensively,  the two other papers to see how the method has been applied to other systems.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Seminar on "Male killers", insects and what the Egyptian Revolution means for science

I am pleased to announce a very exciting small and informal seminar by a visit from a colleague in Egypt: Dr. Sherif Elnagdy from Cairo University. Sherif did his Ph.D. on the evolutionary genetics and ecology of ladybeetles (Coccinellidae) at Cambridge University, under the supervision of the late professor Michael Majerus. He is especially interested in how endosymbiotic bacteria, such as Wolbachia, leads to phenomena like "male killing" and skewed sex ratios, a common feature in many insects.

Sherif will give a presentation of his research on Wednesday October 26 at 13.30 in the seminar room "Argumentet" (2nd floor, "Ecology Building"). The title of his talk is:

"The Male Killers"

After his scientific talk, there will be a break for about 20 minutes, with ample of time of questions, and after that Sherif will give a brief (c. a. 10 minute) talk about what the Egyptian Revolution earlier this year might mean for science, scientists and academia in Egypt. Sherif lives close to the famous "Tahrir Square" in Cairo, where the dramatic events took place early in 2011, which resulted in the overthrow of the dictatorship and (hopefully) a brighter future for both academics and other citizens in Egypt.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Proposals for post-conference symposia after ISBE 2012

It will now be possible to send in proposals for so-called "Post-conference symposia" after the ISBE-meeting (August 12-17 2012) in Lund next year. Post-conference symposia are thematic, one-day long and are organized independently, the day after the regular ISBE-meeting, i. e. on August 18 2012. Already one such post-conference symposium has been decided to take place: our ESF-funded workshop on the role of behaviour in non-ecological and non-adaptive speciation, but there are certainly room for other topics.

It is now possible to send in a proposal here, and the deadline for such proposals will be sometime early next year (January or February 2012).

New lab-meeting on micro- and macroevolution of body size

Since this week's lab-meeting discussion about Anna's presentation took longer time than planned, we will discuss the paper by Uyeda et al. in PNAS this coming Tuesday instead, in "Argumentet" (13.00-15.00). Hope to see you all there, and I recommend you to read this important paper in detail before the meeting to have a good and productive discussion. Also, do not forget to take a look at Jerry Coyne's blogpost about the paper which you can find here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Teaching - the what and the how

How does one teach? How do you do it most effectively, and how would you know? These were the questions that were scrutinized during an inspiring workshop in Portugal, lead by Diane Ebert-May last week. Ben Chapman and I had been talking about our lack of real formative instruction on teaching, me struggling even with writing a teaching statement for a job application lately. I know a lot about sitting in a classroom, but what I know about teaching came mostly from copying my own teachers. There were a few good ones among them, but mostly, it seemed to me, my own teachers just did something and hoped for the best. What about teaching challenges me, and how do I approach it?

Thus, Ben and I went to Porto, to learn about innovative ways to teach science. Incidentally, we also got a great deal of hands on (or rather in-mouth) experience with Portuguese food, and learned that the Portuguese are possibly more obsessed with good food than the French are. Rightly so, it’s great. Still digesting that. Anyway.

This is where FIRST IV comes in. This cryptic name for the workshop stands for: Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching; the IV stands for the 4th funding round from NSF. It’s mission is to “reform undergraduate science education through professional development of postdocs who will design an inquiry-based, student-centered undergraduate biology course”.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? What does this mean in practice? In practice it means that lecturers should move away from the full time ppt presentations, where only the lecturer talks. Let students do some of the talking. I remember trying this in some lectures, but all too often, when I posed a question, I had scared and dumbstruck students staring back at me. One or two confident students would sometimes answer, but it would always be the same ones talking. In stead, make it more personal. To challenge students to think for themselves about questions, in the classroom, give them some time and space to discuss and solve questions among themselves, in smaller groups, and have class-wide discussions afterwards. Focus on concepts, and scientific thinking, rather than facts. Facts are interesting, but do not challenge anyone to think.

Another key ingredient is to assess students during the course, not just at the end in a final exam. Maybe have them hand in something at the end of your class, written during about 5 minutes – and give them feedback on it. Make it part of their final grade or not, but if you test them on what they picked up during your lecture, it is more likely they will be motivated to be an active part of your lecture - and thus learn more of it. It’s a little extra work for you, but then again, you will have immediate feedback on your teaching. And who hasn’t wondered, after talking for an hour, if any of the students really got what you were saying? There are lots more tools to teach an inquiry-based, students centered course, and I encourage anyone to visit Diane Ebert-May’s website for inspiration (link to it here).

Does this really yield better results? Diane has ditched her plant research and is now focusing on measuring the results of teaching styles on student performance. Not just within a course, but also in the long term during the university-career of a student. Did students that were taught in such a course to think for them selves early on in their studying (i.e. during their first year) learn tools to study that improved their studying throughout? There is some evidence. Check it out here, and think about it for yourself ;).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Report from Uppsala: competition, ecological and non-ecological speciation

 Every now and then, one has to visit your enemy and competitor, as Richard Nixon realized in the early 1970'ties, when he visited The People's Republic of China, and shaked hand with communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong (see above). I imagine Nixon felt a bit unsecure when he, as an american, visited a traditional enemy on his home ground, almost like sticking your head in to the lion's den.

Uppsala and Lund Universities, being the oldest and most prestigious universities in Sweden, are often seen as competitors, but luckily we have not been close to armed conflict, like the US and China, and we are hopefully a bit closer to each other than Nixon and Mao. I was therefore honoured when I was offered to sit the thesis committé of Niclas Vallin, one of my colleage Anna Qvarnströms PhD-students, together with Prof. Andrew Hendry from McGill University (Canada). You probably remember that Andrew was also the opponent of my student Fabrice Eroukhmanoff in Lund, a couple of years ago, and then Anna Qvarnström was in the thesis-committe.

The current thesis by Vallin dealt with interspecific competition between flycatcher species on the island of Öland, and was a classical experimental field study which (almost refreshingly!) did not have a single chapter on molecular genetics, which is quite rare these days. Andrew writes a more thorough report about the thesis and its content on his research group blog "Eco-Evo-Evo-Eco".

On Thursday last week, Andrew and I also gave tandem talks at the Evolutionary Biology Centre (EBC) about the importance of ecological speciation, and its alternatives. We both took a critical look at ecological speciation, albeit from different angles, and Andrew writes more about it here.Briefly, Andrew questioned how often ecologically divergent selection leads to the completion of speciation, something which he calls "ecological non-speciation" , whereas I attacked ecological speciation with some examples of radiations which are unlikely to have speciated through ecological means and niche-based divergent selection, which we can call "non-ecological speciation".  

After long and scientific discussions over beers, wine and "Bäversnaps", Andrew and I agreed that we almost understood nothing, and that more research is clearly needed. I therefore would like to take the opportunity to, once again, advertise the ESF-workshop next year on non-adaptive and non-ecological speciation that will take place in Lund next year, on August 18 2012.

Lastly, I have to say I really enjoyed going to Uppsala (in spite of our historical antagonisms!), and to participate both in the thesis-committe of Niklas Vallin, and listen also to the thesis-defence of another PhD-student, Paolo Innocenti, who has worked on the transcriptomic consequences of sexual conflict in Drosophila. Interestingly, Paolo has worked both with Jessica Abbott and Tom Gosden, my two first PhD-students, so this is really a small world. And although Lund might still be the best university in Sweden, there is clearly room also for Uppsala, especially when they open up and collaborate with people from Lund.

Visit by Peter and Rosemary grant and lab-meeting this week

This will be quite an exciting week at our department. On Thursday and Friday, we are visited by legendary evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant (Princeton University), who are famous for their long-term population and ecological studies of Galápagos Finches on Daphne Major. Rosemary will give a seminar on Thursday (October 6) at 13.15 (note! Not usual time at 14.00) in the "Blue Hall", entitled:  "Evolution of Darwin's Finches: the role of genetics, ecology and behaviour".

The next day, on October 7, Peter will introduce a reseach symposium in honour of the Grant couple with the theme "Microevolution in the wild". This symposium starts at 08.30, with Peter's talk which is entitled: "Microevolution in Darwin´s finches". Other contributions to this symposium comes from two members of our research lab: Anna Runemark and Maren Wellenreuther. The full programme can be found here.

Anna would like to have some feedback an input on her presentation, before the symposium, and we will therefore listen to her during our lab-meeting this week, which will take place on Thursday, October 6 at 10.00 in the seminar room "Fagus" (3rd floor, Ecology Building). Anna will bring fika. After her presentation, we will discuss a recent paper in PNAS, about the link between microevolution and macroevolution, by Uyeda, Hansen, Arnold and Pienaar entitled: "The million year wait for macroevolutionary bursts".

This is a very important paper that adresses the issue of (apparent) evolutionary stasis in phenotypic traits, and how to reconcile this with the observation that natural (and sexual) selection is generally considered to be strong in natural (contemporary) populations, and the fact that there appears to be abundant additive genetic variance for rapid evolutionary change. Yet, it seems to seldom happen, and this is what we are going to discuss. You will find the title and Abstract below. I would also like to recommend the interesting post by Chicago-professor and population geneticist Jerry Coyne who comments upon their findings at his blog "Why Evolution is True". The title of his post summarizes very well the main finding by Uyeda et al: "Want evolutionary change? Wait a million years".

The million-year wait for macroevolutionary bursts

  1. Jason Pienaarc
+ Author Affiliations
  1. aDepartment of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331;
  2. bDepartment of Biology, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, University of Oslo, 0316 Oslo, Norway; and
  3. cDepartment of Genetics, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa 0002