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May 6, 2015
Primates are highly charismatic and often serve as flagship species in conservation efforts. They are also the closest living relatives of humans, and therefore hold the keys to resolving many questions about human evolution and ecology. However, the slow life histories of primates, combined with their complex social systems, their behavioral plasticity, and the challenging field conditions in which primate researchers must work, have severely limited analyses of mortality and fertility in wild, unprovisioned primate populations. This in turn limits comparative analyses that can shed light on the population dynamics and the social and ecological adaptations that have shaped both human and nonhuman primate evolution. We propose a Primate Life Histories Working Group to compare mortality and fertility schedules across taxa, to evaluate a set of hypotheses about the roles that phylogeny, ecology, and behavior play in shaping primate mortality and fertility patterns, and to examine whether life history theory predicts which vital rates are most variable across species. Using unique, individual-based life history data that have been collected from wild populations by nine working group participants over a minimum of 19 years, we will develop age-specific mortality and fertility schedules and create population projection matrices for each species. Our immediate goals are to test current hypotheses about the evolution of life histories in order to advance our understanding of primate evolution. Our longer-term goal is to move toward a collaborative, shared databank allowing analyses of irreplaceable life history data on wild primates.
April 23, 2015
The identification and explanation of long-term evolutionary trends in higher taxa and biological communities is an important goal of biological research. Body size is the single most important ecological characteristic of metazoa and the variable most easily applied to analysis of evolutionary trends across distantly related taxa. The proposed working group will bring together paleobiologists studying body size evolution in deep time and across higher taxa with biologists studying the distribution of body sizes in living organisms from the community to global scale. The working group will initiate a community-wide database of body sizes through the Phanerozoic, an effort that requires standardized data on body size across higher taxa. The working group will also catalyze collaborations between paleobiologists and biologists to develop the theory necessary to investigate long-term dynamics in body-size evolution across diverse living and extinct metazoan lineages. The workshop will provide a venue for members to address the relationships between the pattern of body size evolution and the distribution of body sizes in extant organisms. How well can macroevolutionary patterns be inferred from macroecological ones? How well do those patterns reflect evolutionary mechanisms, whether driven or passive? Ultimately, the resulting database will become a broadly applicable and dynamic resource for macroevolutionary research, with real potential to help future workers shed light on the forces that have shaped the evolutionary trajectory of animal life on Earth.
April 12, 2015
Although the Indian and Pacific Oceans (hereafter Indo-Pacific) have long been recognized as containing the majority of marine biodiversity, their vastness poses substantial challenges for empirical research. Syntheses of published data, however, can expand the geographic scope of inference. We plan to examine the recent evolution of Indo-Pacific taxa by drawing upon all available population genetic data. We have two immediate research goals: 1) compile and analyze existing datasets for multiple species using consistent and uniform methods of analysis that represent the best current practice in population genetics to better determine oceanographic and geographic features as well as biological traits correlated with population structure. These results will inform our understanding of evolutionary processes in the region and provide information directly relevant to managers and conservation organizations. We will also: 2) conduct the first large scale multispecies investigation to infer the geography of speciation among Indo-Pacific taxa that incorporates population genetic inferences, thus testing predictions of competing biogeographic hypotheses using a novel approach. These research goals are underpinned by the creation of a database that would become publicly accessible to facilitate future studies. In addition, we plan to develop a virtual collaboration space that will support international collaborations in genetic-based research, training, and education throughout the region.
March 15, 2015
February 26, 2015
Evolutionary biology is a foundational and integrative science for medicine, but few physicians or medical researchers are familiar with its most relevant principles. While undergraduate students have increasing opportunities to learn about the interface of evolution, health, and disease, most premedical students have scant room for electives in their schedules, few premed prerequisite courses incorporate evolutionary thinking, and no medical school develops these competencies. The overarching goal of this Working Group is to lay the groundwork for future endeavors by providing testable models and pathways for infusing premedical and medical education with evolutionary thinking. This Working Group, an interdisciplinary, international, and intergenerational group of physicians, scientists, educators, and students, will 1) define core competencies in evolutionary biology for physicians and other health professionals; 2) investigate the ability of current curricula to prepare health professionals to meet these standards; 3) identify âteachable momentsâ that provide opportunities to integrate evolutionary principles into premedical and medical curricula; 4) design model curricula and learning experiences that can advance evolutionary education for health professionals; and 5) provide open access to these resources and disseminate them. The Working Group will be supported by an Advisory Committee of senior academic leaders and stakeholders. These efforts will not be sufficient in themselves, but they will establish the intellectual platform from which educational interventions on student learning, and scientific and clinical problem solving, can be developed and tested.
Americans are far less accepting of human evolution than other realms of evolution; yet, human evolution and our common ancestry with other animals are increasingly relevant to medicine and our daily lives. We propose a NESCent working group made up of scientists, educators, and a journalist that will be devoted to enhancing communication of these health-related applications of human evolution to diverse audiences. Planned activities include discussion of methodological approaches designed to best communicate these ideas, design of teacher workshops, writing publications geared to each of these audiences, and discussion regarding collaboration with museums (in particular, the Smithsonian Institution) and zoos. In these activities, we will take a systematic scholarly approach using evidence-based methods to foster communication of principles of human evolution to these diverse audiences.
February 22, 2015
It is easily demonstrable that organisms with rapid, appropriate plastic responses to environmental change will prevail over genotypes with fixed phenotypes. It is also accepted that the general dearth of organisms successful across a wide environmental range indicates fundamental limits to or costs of plasticity. The nature of constraining factors has been broadly discussed (DeWitt et al. 1998), and numerous studies have been done to quantify them. However, a curious pattern has emerged: although hypothesized to be widespread, costs are absent more often than they are detected. The issue of costs of plasticity (CoP) lies at the intersection of a range of evolutionary and ecological questions: What are the limits to plasticity? Are CoP associated with life history tradeoffs? Are CoP expected in all environments? Does plasticity enhance invasiveness? etc. This working group will address two fundamental questions. 1) Are the expectations that costs of plasticity should be universal well-founded (i.e., the Âno free lunchÂ principle)? Several authors have proposed that, in situations where the intensity of selection for adaptive plasticity is strong, there should be corresponding pressure to ameliorate costs. 2) Independently of the answer to the first question, Are analytical and experimental methods for detecting CoP appropriate or sufficiently sensitive? CoP have most often been studied using common garden style plasticity experiments and analyzed via van TienderenÂs (1991) multiple regression approach.
February 10, 2015
A working group to solve problems in model selection and phylogeny in mixed multi-factor meta-analysis
Meta-analysis is a statistical technique used for syntheses of results from numerous independent studies. Increasingly, evolutionary biologists need to perform meta-analysis in which the effects of numerous explanatory variables on a response variable of interest are considered, taking into account the evolutionary history of the species in the dataset. However, such analyses require analysis of numerous complex statistical models, and methods for such analyses have not been previously developed. Our working group is developing these methods and applying them to understand local adaptation, context-dependency, and the influence of evolutionary relationships on outcomes of symbiosis between plants and mycorrhizal fungi.
January 14, 2015
When a seed germinates determines the seasonal environment experienced by a plant throughout its life, and germination phenology is one of the very first phenotypes expressed by plants during ontogeny. As such, germination phenology is subject to extremely strong natural selection, especially during early stages of adaptation. Moreover, germination co-evolves with seed dispersal, mating system, and reproductive strategy to determine plant life cycles and demographic dynamics of plant populations. This working group will test the importance of germination adaptations in delimiting species niche and range limits, both in the past and in response to changed environments. More generally, this topic pertains to the identification of key traits associated with adaptation to environmental change, and the role that early life-stage traits and traits associated with habitat selection contribute to these dynamics. The focus on germination provides a clear and tractable system for addressing general evolutionary and ecological questions concerning the interactions between ontogeny and adaptation, trait coevolution, and the roles of habitat selection and organismal responses to their environment in niche evolution. It also will contribute tangibly to efforts to predict plant responses to environmental change. The group will compile and analyze a comprehensive data set on germination and dormancy, combined with data on niche breadth, geographic range, and life history, in order to test hypotheses concerning trait coevolution and species range limits. The group will also theoretically explore interactions between ontogeny and adaptation, theoretically model trait coevolution via habitat selection and bet hedging, and develop phenological models of integrated life histories that include germination in order to predict plant responses to environmental change.
January 13, 2015
Humans are vulnerable to a number of unique musculoskeletal maladies as a consequence of our evolutionary history. Although walking on our extended hind limbs is the hallmark adaptation characterizing our species it nevertheless makes us vulnerable to a wide range of serious joint and soft tissue problems. When viewed from an evolutionary perspective many of these medical issues become understandable and, indeed, novel methods of diagnosis and treatment can emerge. The proposed collaborative, a working group of paleoanthropologists, comparative anatomists, biomechanical engineers, and physicians will create new analytical approaches and new ways of viewing the disorders that uniquely plague our species. The results of this work include the development and implementation of a model curriculum, the creation of a website, and the publication of an edited volume. The disorders directly related to our way of walking include chronically sprained ankles, hernias, osteoporotic fractures of the hip, spine, and forearm, obstetric problems, knee problems, foot disorders, fatigue fractures, and many others. By understanding how our anatomy changed in order to walk upright, and why these changes occurred, we gain a better understanding of why these adaptations sometimes go awry resulting in disorders and pain.
December 17, 2014
We propose a catalysis meeting to advance theoretically-grounded, empirical study of scientific collaborations designed to achieve synthesis. Synthesis is the integration of diverse theories, methods and data across spatial or temporal scales, scientific phenomena, and forms of expertise to increase the generality, parsimony, applicability, or empirical soundness of scientific explanations. It generates emergent explanations beyond the scope of any one discipline, dataset or method. It counterbalances scientific specialization, capitalizes on existing data, and can be used to address complex problems. Synthesis centers are an increasingly vital component of science policy, rising in number, size, and prominence nationally and globally. Despite this, our understanding of synthesis-group collaborations and their performance are inadequate to advance knowledge, inform policy and guide practice. This meeting will draw together scientists who lead and conduct synthetic research with a diverse group of experts on scientific collaboration and research evaluation. Our aim is to advance understanding of synthesis and develop new approaches for investigating it empirically, longitudinally and comparatively.
December 9, 2014
Wednesday, 12:00 PM at NESCent, Ninth Street and Main Street, Erwin Mill Building, 2024 W. Main Street, Suite A200. For more information, call 919-668-4551
December 7, 2014
Making science more reproducible has enormous potential to accelerate scientific advance, including for practicing individuals. Despite this, the tools and approaches that are already available are rarely taught. To address this, we are organizing a 4-day workshop aimed at developing, and later teaching, a short course curriculum for tools, resources, and practices for reproducible science. A part of the workshop will also be devoted to addressing gaps that hinder the broad adoption of such resources.
December 2, 2014
November 21, 2014
November 18, 2014
Wednesday, 12:00 PM at NESCent, Ninth Street and Main Street, Erwin Mill Building, 2024 W. Main Street. Room A103 (1st Floor) For more information, call 919-668-4551
November 17, 2014
What are the limits of adaptation? What determines long-term evolutionary rates? How predictable is evolution? The field of experimental evolution has grown tremendously over the last decade. This growth reflects both a greater appreciation of the power of experimental evolution for testing evolutionary hypotheses and, especially recently, the new power of genomic methods for analyzing changes in experimentally evolved lineages. But most experiments are fairly short, typically lasting only a few tens or hundreds of generations in plants/animals or microbes, respectively. Long-term evolution experiments are still rare, but are crucial in gaining a better understanding of evolutionary processes and outcomes, and in answering some of the most important basic and applied questions in biology. This catalysis meeting will bring together leading researchers in experimental evolution, population genetics, molecular evolution, theory and many other fields to develop a roadmap for the future of long-term evolution experiments. The meetingâs aims are: (i) To identify the most important biological questions that can be addressed using long-term evolution experiments; (ii) To synthesise information on existing long-term evolution experiments that were both intentional (e.g. lab-based) and unintentional (e.g. disease outbreaks, the pet trade, stock centres, and industrial processes); (iii) To identify opportunities to answer existing questions with existing data and/or experiments; (iv) To plan new long-term evolution experiments in a variety of systems; This meeting will establish an international network of collaborating labs that will result in new research directions, new training opportunities, and a grand vision for the future of long-term evolution experiments.
November 12, 2014
In the last two decades, models from evolutionary biology have made important contributions to demographic research on human fertility change. Within this evolutionary framework, two distinct traditions have focused on different processes of adaptation and time scales of change: (1) behavioral ecological perspectives have focused on how individual fertility decisions are shaped by local ecological circumstances, while (2) cultural evolutionary approaches have emphasized the role of socially transmitted information and changing social norms in shaping fertility behavior. While each tradition has made independent progress, research that integrates these approaches is necessary to improve our understanding of real fertility behavior, which results from a feedback between individual fertility decisions and social change. This approach requires combined attention to immediate ecological determinants of fertility decisions as well as the long-term processes that shape costs and benefits in a given environment. This workshop will bring together an international team of evolutionary behavioral scientists with complementary methodological and theoretical expertise in anthropology, psychology, and demography to develop (a) a synthetic article which proposes how these approaches can be integrated methodologically and theoretically, (b) an empirical article which applies our new synthetic framework to the study of fertility change in a particular fieldsite, demonstrating how the new methodological approach will work in practice and what we can learn through employing it, and (c) a multi-site grant proposal (UK, US, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Poland) aimed at integrating and empirically testing these diverse evolutionary models of human fertility change.
November 11, 2014
Wednesday, 12:00 PM at NESCent, Ninth Street and Main Street, Erwin Mill Building, 2024 W. Main Street. Room A103 (1st Floor) For more information, call 919-668-4551
November 9, 2014
This catalysis group will plan the implementation of SimBank, a large, openly-available series of population genetic landscape simulations, intended for easy testing and validation of statistical genetics methods and based on realistic scenarios from natural populations across a range of taxa. Genetic and genomic data allow us to estimate numerous biological parameters through statistical genetics techniques. However, these techniques necessarily make many assumptions that do not match biology. As a result, the value of these statistical approaches may depend on the biological details of the evolutionary and demographic history of the populations being studied. Statistical genetics techniques need to be better tested and validated than they currently are, and the best way to do this is by comparisons to genetic simulation of biologically reasonable situations. This catalysis group will plan for the creation of a test bank of simulated genomic data. We will create a core list of biological scenarios that can test a wide variety of statistical methods, over a range of assumptions about evolutionary history, demography, and genetic details. Creating such simulations is non-trivial, because of the necessity of coding a variety of scenarios and the processor time required to do large-scale simulations. However, many types of statistical genetics techniques can be tested on a common set of simulations. In this way, we can share processor time and discuss as a community what issues are most important to cover. The group will mix statisticians and programmers with empirical biologists, with expertise in evolution, landscape ecology, and geospatial pattern analysis.
The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks
BMC Evolutionary Biology
Molecular Biology and Evolution