Evolutionary biology is one of the most integrative fields in natural sciences, spanning from theoretical and experimental studies in ecology, behavioural, developmental and ecosystem biology, to applied fields such as medical or conservation research. While Darwin with his theory of natural selection provided the key concept for evolutionary change, it was not until its integration with population-level thinking, advanced understanding of inheritance and with neutral selection processes half a century later that a more mature picture of evolution could arise.
Thereafter, evolution was defined as gene frequency changes though mutation, genetic drift and gene flow where (natural) selection weeds out the adaptive from the maladaptive genotypes.
But ever since, critics argue evolutionary studies to be very gene-centric and dismissive of other mechanisms contributing to evolutionary change. This discussion regained traction during the early 2000s, arguing for a wider recognition particularly of niche construction theory, extra-genetic inheritance, developmental bias, and phenotypic plasticity. And while evidence of their contribution to evolutionary change is backed up by empirical evidence, wider recognition is trailing behind.
This workshop therefore aims to clarify, update and expand on traditional evolutionary thinking, by providing each field with a platform for discussion.
Workshop focus areas:
1. Niche construction – the process by which an organism modifies or stabilises an environmental state which subsequently affects selection on themselves or other species
2. Extra-genetic Inheritance - the heredity of epigenetic markers, developmental resources, environmental, cultural and social structures, may influence offspring fitness
3. Developmental Bias - the biased production of variant phenotypes due to (mainly but not exclusively) gene regulatory changes which alter timing, location, amount and type of gene products
4. Phenotypic Plasticity - the capacity of an organism to alter its phenotype in response to environmental cues
Scientific Organization: Noemie Erin, Vandana R. Venkateswaran, Alice Feurtey, Dominik W. Schmid (MPI for Evolutionary Biology)