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.


  1. And you were chairman Mao in this equation, I presume?

  2. Machteld:

    Since I was the outsider visiting "enemy land", I guess I am rather "Dirty Dick" (Richard Nixon) here...

  3. Can't believe you picked Nixon!

  4. Hmmm...It's a tough choice here, I admit. Corrupt and lying US president, or authoritarian dictator from China...