Department Evolutionary Theory
The evolutionary theory group uses mathematics and computer simulations to study the dynamics of evolution. Our team is interdisciplinary, with backgrounds ranging from biology, physics, and mathematics to computer science and economics.
In evolutionary dynamics, mutation and selection are responsible for the change of an evolving population.
Mutations are, e.g., errors in reproduction and can lead to new types (phenotypes, or genotypes). Selection then acts on these different types. Normally, different types reproduce at different rates, although an important case is neutral evolution where all types reproduce equally fast.
The theoretical description of a population of reproducing individuals includes assuming interactions between them, that may affect their reproduction rates. We use evolutionary game theory to describe such interactions mathematically. Our goal is, on the one hand, to model biological systems based on this approach, on the other hand we develop the mathematical toolbox of theoretical biology further.
Fluctuations and noise play a major role in evolutionary dynamics. Hence, in the study of small populations we employ stochastic processes. However, in very large populations probabilistic effects can sometimes be neglected and the outcome of evolution can become deterministic. We study different regimes of mutation, selection, population size and population structure to infer how they influence the evolutionary dynamics.
The biological problems we address include the emergence and maintenance of polymorphisms in natural populations, the evolution of cooperation and the evolutionary dynamics of cancer.
More information here: www.evolbio.mpg.de/~traulsen