NESCent

NESCent, The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, is a collaborative effort of Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

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http://www.nescent.org/

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18 min 26 sec ago

January 13, 2015

22:00
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

22:00
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

22:00
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 2, 2014

22:00
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

November 21, 2014

November 18, 2014

22:00
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

22:00
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 meeting’s 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

22:00
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

22:00
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

22:00
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.

November 4, 2014

22:00
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 3, 2014

22:00
Odonates are model organisms for testing fundamental evolutionary questions because (1) they are one of the first winged insects); (2) have the most advanced vision and flight among insects; (3) their ecology and behavior is among the best studied for insects; and (4) they are easy to manipulate for field studies. However, a major obstacle to many odonate studies is the lack of odonate genomics resources. This gap in odonate genomics limits research progress but can be overcome by a focused effort that combines, analyzes and synthesizes existing and emerging datasets and knowledge in the field. This is now possible, as several research groups have started odonate genomics projects in the last 5 years, but formal communication between laboratories has yet to begin. The odonate community is geographically dispersed and many researchers are working in disparate fields (such as paleo-entomology, conservation/climate change, single gene evolution and/or comparative genomics), and therefore a Catalysis meeting would provide an ideal opportunity that will (1) foster international collaboration to create an effective network that will (2) focus community efforts towards a cohesive program to (3) generate new knowledge and a legacy of useful resources and novel research directions.

November 2, 2014

22:00
Human cultural diversity is expressed in myriad ways (from social and marital norms to languages and religious practices), but what factors shape this diversity? Dating back to Darwin, multiple disciplines have debated the degree to which cultural diversity patterns are influenced by different factors, including history, demographics, and ecology. Over recent years an emerging set of studies have showcased how phylogenetic comparative methods from evolutionary biology can help resolve these long-held debates and revolutionize the field of cultural evolution. Now the major barrier to advances lies in the location of necessary data, which are spread across multiple disparate sources in linguistics, biogeography and anthropology. To overcome this challenge we will create D-PLACE (a Database of Phylogenies of Languages for the study of Cultural Evolution), a publicly available and expandable web-portal that will map over 100 cultural features onto language phylogenies and link these to ecological and environmental variables, empowering a whole new line of investigation into the drivers of cultural change and patterns of cultural diversity. We will produce a paper to introduce D-PLACE and outline the many types of questions in comparative anthropology the database can answer. Finally, we will demonstrate the power of this new resource by using D-PLACE to examine two long-standing and fundamental questions from comparative anthropology: (i) What drives the diversity of incest taboos (i.e. how human societies regulate who can mate and marry)? (ii) Can we characterize recurrent “human niches”, or are societies just arbitrary bundles of cultural features?

October 28, 2014

22:00
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

October 22, 2014

22:00
Why are some genes imprinted, where the maternally or paternally inherited copies are preferentially expressed? Ever since the paradoxical pattern of imprinted gene expression was discovered evolutionary theories have strived to answer this question. Consequently, theories built on different fundamental assumptions have proliferated. Although these theories should make distinct and testable predictions, there have been few tests aimed at formally differentiating between these competing ideas. However, despite the general lack of such tests, the ‘kinship theory’, and especially its most prominent component, the ‘conflict hypothesis’, has emerged as the favored theory. This predominance is most notably reflected in the literature outside of evolutionary biology, where the conflict hypothesis is regularly used to interpret the functions and effects of imprinted genes. The conflict hypothesis rose to dominance because it appears to explain the effects of the first imprinted genes discovered. However, data from a broader array of genes in model species and emerging insights from non-model species appear to challenge whether one hypothesis adequately explains all occurrences of imprinting. We propose a working group composed of theoretical, computational and empirical biologists that will develop a set of formal predictions and devise tests to differentiate between competing models for the evolution of genomic imprinting. In doing so, we also expect to identify unexplored problems in evolutionary theory. Understanding why genes are imprinted also has important implications for evolutionary medicine since imprinted genes play a crucial role during pregnancy, in the manifestation of several behavioral disorders, and in some cancers.
22:00
Why are some genes imprinted, where the maternally or paternally inherited copies are preferentially expressed? Ever since the paradoxical pattern of imprinted gene expression was discovered evolutionary theories have strived to answer this question. Consequently, theories built on different fundamental assumptions have proliferated. Although these theories should make distinct and testable predictions, there have been few tests aimed at formally differentiating between these competing ideas. However, despite the general lack of such tests, the ‘kinship theory’, and especially its most prominent component, the ‘conflict hypothesis’, has emerged as the favored theory. This predominance is most notably reflected in the literature outside of evolutionary biology, where the conflict hypothesis is regularly used to interpret the functions and effects of imprinted genes. The conflict hypothesis rose to dominance because it appears to explain the effects of the first imprinted genes discovered. However, data from a broader array of genes in model species and emerging insights from non-model species appear to challenge whether one hypothesis adequately explains all occurrences of imprinting. We propose a working group composed of theoretical, computational and empirical biologists that will develop a set of formal predictions and devise tests to differentiate between competing models for the evolution of genomic imprinting. In doing so, we also expect to identify unexplored problems in evolutionary theory. Understanding why genes are imprinted also has important implications for evolutionary medicine since imprinted genes play a crucial role during pregnancy, in the manifestation of several behavioral disorders, and in some cancers.

October 21, 2014

22:00
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

October 19, 2014

22:00
Bees have evolved durable relationships with a diverse set of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. These microbial communities comprise beneficial and detrimental symbionts and their composition is likely a key determinant for the health status of the host. Furthermore, based on existing data, social bee species seem to harbor more consistent and specific communities than non-social ones, indicating that bees could represent suitable models to study the evolution of host-microbe interactions given different degrees of host sociality. High-throughput sequencing technologies allow us to acquire vast amounts of sequencing data (metagenomics) from the microbial communities of different bee populations, synthesize the results and obtain comprehensive patterns of microbe-host webs. To make this possible, metagenomic sequence data produced by different laboratories need to be consistently analyzed and archived allowing integration and subsequent exploitation by scientists from different research areas, such as bee pathology, microbial ecology, and evolution. The aim of the proposed meeting will be to gather an interdisciplinary group of scientists working on different aspects of bee science, including microbiologists, epidemiologists, evolutionists and computer scientists. This group will (i) define the most burning questions regarding bee microbiome interactions and the effect of the environment on its composition, (ii) identify an appropriate strategy to address these questions, including the design of tools such as a dedicated database, (iii) discuss future collaborative efforts to fund the proposed research.

October 15, 2014

22:00
The theory of evolution by natural selection has had a profound impact not only on the biological sciences but also on the social sciences, revolutionizing our understanding of perception, cognition, language, social behavior, and cultural practices. Despite the centrality of evolutionary theory to the social sciences, many students struggle to understand how natural selection works, imagine greater scientific controversy than actually exists, and show little appreciation for evolution as an overarching theoretical framework. One factor contributing to this divide between scholars and students may be how evolution is (and is not) taught in the social sciences. Our goal is to provide a new perspective on best practices for teaching evolution in the social sciences that is informed by our understanding of how people accommodate and reconcile scientific and non-scientific explanations, an understudied area of evolution education. We seek to synthesize what is and is not known about varieties of teaching evolution in the social sciences, assessing student's understanding and misunderstanding of evolution in this context, and diagnosing potential causes of student misconceptions. This synthesis is expected to result in two major outcomes. The first outcome will be a review paper outlining what scientists view as the primary challenges to students' understanding of evolution in the social sciences and the strategies they have adopted to meet these challenges. The second outcome will be a grant proposal outlining studies that will test alternative teaching strategies, using a variety of outcome measures devised by the participants of the catalysis meeting. The catalysis meeting will thus serve two purposes: to chart the landscape of evolutionary misconceptions specific to the social sciences and to identify empirically testable strategies for countering those misconceptions.
22:00
Underlying the adaptive behavior of animals is a process by which individuals must make decisions based on functionally relevant categories: who is a suitable mate, social partner, host, or prey item? Who is a competitor or a predator? Despite the ubiquitous need for animals to find a suitable mate, sort out enemies from collaborators, and correctly identify food, we lack a unifying framework of evolutionary decision theory. Here, we propose a cross-disciplinary team to establish an integrative conceptual framework with testable hypotheses for studying decision-making in an evolutionary context. Leveraging expertise from research programs in evolution, neurobiology, behavioral ecology, and comparative psychology, we aim to address questions of whether and how available information is processed by similar or different algorithms to generate decisions across individuals, species, sensory modalities, and functional contexts. We identify directions for immediate analyses within a new framework, including the role of learning and memory in shaping animal decisions, and hypotheses related to the evolution of categorical-like perception in a complex environment. We propose to systematically synthesize the primary literature incorporating data from behavioral “choice” and “recognition” trials (e.g., mate choice, host choice, kin recognition, parasite rejection), in order to generate a large, multi-taxon, publicly available database that will provide a rich source of data for future analyses of comparative patterns in decision making algorithms. Ultimately, our aim is to bring together a diversity of perspectives spanning multiple levels of analysis in order to transform our understanding of decision-making in an evolutionary context.