Dr. Kerstin Mehnert
Dr. Kerstin Mehnert
Scientific Coordinator
Phone: + 49 4522 763-233
Fax: +49 4522 763-351

Press and Public Relations


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Seminar Series on Evolutionary Medicine - Jenny Tung: The importance of being social - social interactions, gene regulation,and fitness in nonhuman primates


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Ayari Fuentes-Hernandez: Evolution of drug resistance in heterogeneous environments


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Tom Bruns: A burning interest in post-fire fungal communities


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ceremonial act of the MPI


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talk by John Pannell


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Bruce McDonald: "Using Population Genomics to Understand Pathogen Adaptation to Agroecosystems"


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Marta Szulkin: Watching life from space - tit trait variation in the Anthropocene


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Angel Sánchez: Humans as social subjects - placing interactions in context


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Michael Fontaine: A phylogenomic portrait of radiation and introgression in the An. gambiae complex


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Fungal Evolution Symposium


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Tobias Kaiser: An evolutionary approach to unravel the molecular basis of circalunar clocks

Tobias Kaiser will give his inaugural lecture at the MPI. [more]

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Sergey Gavrilets: Collective action and the internalization of social norms


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Symposium: Natural Selection is Ecology in Action


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Fabrizio Mafessoni: Bonobos' sexual behavior and parental care influence the accumulation of deleterious alleles on the X-chromosome


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Yvan I. Russell: Sociality in great apes: studies of reputation, food sharing, and grooming


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Dan Benesh: The evolution of complex parasite life cycles


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CANCELLED - Ed Louis: "Population genomics and quantitative genetics in yeast"


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Asger Hobolth: Inferring population history from DNA sequences: Methods, models and challenges.


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Brite: Bridging Theory and Experiments


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Workshop Theoretical Biology: extended registration

extended registration: Interested researchers are still welcome to register by email to Ursula Krützfeldt ( This annual event wants to build a bridge between the disciplines of evolutionary biology and ecology to system biology and medicine. The goal is to provide a regional platform for scientists applying mathematical and computational methods to biological problems. [more]

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Toni Gossmann: The great tit genome and its implications for genome evolution


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A genomics approach to migration in high-flying moths


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The evolution of testis transcriptomes among primates


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Genetics of Migration – a case study of willow warblers


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Patricia Wittkopp: Evolution of gene expression: from mutation polymorphism to divergence


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CANCELLED: seminar series “Darwin’s Tongues – Evolution of Language”: talk by Simone Pika

Abstract: “As a feature of life on earth, language is one of science’s great remaining mysteries” 1:1. From early childhood on, human children produce a rich array of sounds, a manifestation of their potent urge to engage in communicative activities, obtain objects, and affect the thinking and behaviour of other people. Speech consists of over 100 acoustically unique phones, commonly combined into rapid sequences, which serve as the main carriers of meaning. These two characteristics—a rich acoustic portfolio and the predisposition to combine basic units into more complex acoustic strings—appear to be unique to the human species, and call for an evolutionary investigation 1,2. However, only recently has the topic of language origins returned to respectability after a long exile, including scholars from a wide variety of scientific disciplines such as Anthropology, Comparative Psychology, Computational Biology, Primatology, Linguistics, and Neuroscience for a recent overview see 3. Additionally, scholars have been focusing more and more on different components of language, for each of which a different evolutionary story is appropriate 4. A crucial component are gestures, which are used to communicate alongside, or instead of, speaking and are integral parts of speech and thinking in language 3. Moreover, human children go through a gesture phase before they use their first spoken words to interact and direct the attention of their caretakers 5. It thus has been hypothesized that this brief period in human ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, with gestures being the launching pad out of which human speech may have blossomed e.g. 6,7. This so called gesture-first hypothesis especially inspired comparative researchers to search for evolutionary precursors to human language in nonhuman primate gesturing 7. Here, I will present an overview of the state of the art and focus in detail on recent findings concerning similarities and differences in gestural abilities of great apes and humans. In addition, I will introduce recent findings 8 on gestural abilities of the corvid family, ravens (Corvus corax), to evaluate the question whether comparable communicative behaviours reflect comparable cognitive abilities. 1 Knight, C., Studdert-Kennedy, M. & Hurford, J. R. in The Evolutionary Emergence of Language: Social Function and the Origins of Linguistic Form (eds Chris Knight, Michael Studdert-Kennedy, & James R. Hurford) 1-15 (Cambridge University Press, 2000). 2 Hauser, M. D., Chomsky, N. & Fitch, W. T. The faculty of language: What is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science 298, 1568-1579 (2002). 3 McNeill, D. How Language Began. Gesture and Speech in Human Evolution. 278 (Cambridge University Press, 2012). 4 Hurford, J. R. Recent developments in the evolution of language. Cognitive Systems 7, 23-32 (2006). 5 Bates, E., Benigni, L., Bretherton, I., Camaioni, L. & Volterra, V. The Emergence of Symbols: Cognition and Communication in Infancy. (Academic Press, 1979). 6 Hewes, G. W. Primate communication and the gestural origin of language. Current Anthropology 12, 5-24 (1973). 7 Tomasello, M. Origins of Human Communications. 268 (MIT Press, 2008). 8 Pika, S. & Bugnyar, T. The use of referential gestures in ravens (Corvus corax) in the wild. Nature Communications 2, 1-5, doi:10.1038/ncomms1567 (2011). [more]

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Anna-Liisa Laine: Ecology and evolution of co-infection

Abstract: Co-infections by multiple pathogen strains are common in the wild. Theory predicts co-infections to have major consequences for both within- and between-host disease dynamics, but data are currently scarce. Here, we study co-infection dynamics of powdery mildew Podosphaera plantaginis in its host populations of Plantago lanceolata in the Åland Islands, SW Finland. We find coinfection to be common yet spatially structured in the wild. A common garden experiment showed that disease prevalence was higher in co-infected treatments both at the host genotype and population levels than in singly-infected treatments. Our experimental findings are confirmed in natural pathogen populations—more devastating epidemics were measured in populations with higher levels of co-infection. Moreover, populations supporting high levels of co-infection had higher pathogen survival between seasons, and genetic diversity is increased suggesting increased opportunities for outcrossing in the pathogen. Jointly, our results confirm the predictions made by theoretical and experimental studies for the potential of co-infection to alter disease dynamics across a large host–pathogen metapopulation. [more]

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Andreas Beyer: Revealing the genetic basis of complex traits

Abstract: Most phenotypes show complex inheritance and continuous variation, which play a central role in evolution and susceptibility to disease. We have developed a suite of computational methods for the elucidation of the genetic contribution to molecular, cellular, and organismal traits. Of particular importance in this context are epistatic interactions, i.e. the unexpected effects of allele combinations from different loci. For example, by exploiting the information contained in known family trios we could for the first time detect allele incompatibilities in a mouse population. Based on data from a mouse panel with more than 2,000 heterozygous mice we detected 168 statistically significant interactions, which is substantially more than what had previously been reported in the literature. Further, we developed extensions of the Random Forest machine learning method, enabling us to detect epistatic interactions in QTL mapping data with unprecedented sensitivity. E.g. by applying this framework to yeast proteomics data we found that almost one third of all QTL were involved in epistatic effects on protein concentrations, underlining the importance of epistasis for understanding complex traits. Finally, the application of these ideas to RNA-sequencing data has revealed the importance of the non-coding transcriptome for understanding the molecular mechanisms of phenotype variation. [more]

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Yasuo Ihara: Evolution of physical weakness by partner choice

Abstract: Male primates often have larger and more projecting canine teeth than females. Species comparisons show an association between the level of canine sexual dimorphism and the intensity of male-male competition, suggesting that canines function as a weapon in inter-male conflicts. Compared with most non-human primates, humans have small and non-projecting canines. It has been shown that male canines were already reduced in Mio-Pliocene hominins, long before the emergence of tool making or large brain. In other words, humans were physically weak from the very beginning. Even though natural selection is likely to have played a part, it is unknown why small canines could be selectively favored over larger ones. My hypothesis supposes socially-induced selection for physical weakness. Specifically, I focus on the possibility that partner choice in coalition formation might have created a novel selection pressure. I further explore this possibility using an individual-based simulation model. [more]

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Cancer Evolution through Space and Time (CEST)

A workshop that brings together top researchers from the area of experimental and theoretical cancer research. It is organized by Arne Traulen (Max Planck Institute in Plön, Germany) and Alexander Anderson (Integrated Mathematical Oncology, Moffit Cancer Center, FL, USA). [more]

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Santiago Sanchez-Ramirez: Glacial diversity dynamics in species, populations, and genomes of a complex of edible ectomycorrhizal fungi

  • Date: Aug 20, 2015
  • Time: 15:00 - 16:00
  • Speaker: Santiago Sanchez-Ramiro from the Toronto University, Canada
  • Santiago is an evolutionary ecologist interested in population genetics and speciation of ectomycorrhizal fungi (fungi that form symbiotic interactions with plants, mainly trees). He is particularly interested in species that form edible mushrooms. So if you want to prepare yourself for the mushroom collecting this fall, don’t miss the opportunity to meet a real specialist.
  • Location: MPI Plön
  • Room: Lecture hall
  • Host: Eva Stukenbrock


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Masato Yamamichi: Modeling eco-evolutionary dynamics in predator-prey systems

Recent studies have increasingly recognized feedbacks between ecological and evolutionary processes as an important factor to predict future dynamics. Previous studies on eco-evolutionary dynamics have tended to focus on the effects of the presence/absence of phenotypic variation on ecological dynamics. I discuss the importance of considering the details of trait variation, introducing my recent studies about phenotypic plasticity, introduction timing of genetic variation, and genetic bases of ecological traits in predator-prey models. [more]

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Barbara Helm: An internal calendar: programmed seasonal and circannual processes in Stonechats

Most environments undergo substantial, rhythmic changes that are at least partly predictable because of their geophysical basis. Organisms have evolved internal time-keeping mechanisms that help them anticipate, and prepare for, these rhythmic changes. Timing mechanisms are widely spread among organisms, but are implemented in species-specific ways. Migratory birds are outstanding in their ability to evade unfavourable conditions, but their mobility puts high demands on time-keeping, and on the physiological, behavioural and morphological traits that enable migration. Studies of birds in the field and captivity have revealed major contributions of inherited timing programs to seasonal processes, but no single solution that fits all species. After a general overview , I will focus on comparative work on Stonechats (Saxicola torquata), a wide-spread taxon of passerine birds that differs geographically in annual activities, including migration. I address variation in Stonechat timing programs, in the amount of seasonal plasticity, and in annual changes of behaviour and physiology, as a backdrop of the incipient genomic studies at the MPI in Ploen. [more]

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Quintin Lau: "Studying major histocompatibility complex (MHC)- computational and in wildlife"


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Aquavit - Internal Symposium


Meselson Seminar Series on the Evolution of Sex

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Meselson Seminar Series on the Evolution of Sex: Through the looking glass: host-parasite coevolution and sex

In many species of plants and animals, females can reproduce without mating. Specifically, they produce only daughters, which are genetically identical (clones) of the mother. One of the major questions in Biology asks why this method of clonal reproduction is not more common, especially given the two-fold reproductive advantage of clonal reproduction. In this talk, I present the results of studies on a freshwater New Zealand snail, where clonal and sexual females coexist. The results of field and laboratory studies suggest that coevolving parasites are an important factor that favors the genetically diverse offspring produced through sexual reproduction (the Red Queen Hypothesis). The results are relevant to agriculture and the spread of diseases in human populations. [more]

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