Friday, February 12, 2010

Darwin Day at Case Western Reserve University

Happy 201st birthday Charles Darwin!

I'm spending Darwin day at Case Western Reserve University as one of several folks speaking on the topic of phylogenetics and evolution. The event's two headliners just wrapped up their talks. University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich gave an enlightening talk about evolutionary rates. Discussing a result that dates back to his famous debate with Stephen Jay Gould over punctuated equilibrium in early 1980s, Dr. Gingerich showed why the dramatic inverse correlation between rates of evolution and the interval of time over which they are measured is a simple mathematical artifact. For those interested in more on this work, Dr. Gingerich published a nice review in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. Gingerich also provided an interesting anecdote about Gould. Early in his talk today, Gingerich asked the audience how many figures were in the Origin. As any phylogeneticist knows, the answer is one: Darwin's classic illustration of the branching tree of life. Apparently when Gingerich asked this same question when Gould was in the audience Gould quickly, and incorrectly, blurted out "two!"

The other headliner today was the godfather of phylogeography, John Avise. This is the first time I've seen him speak, so it was nice that he provided a 22 point retrospective on the lessons learned from phylogeography. It's amazing to think that his first papers on this topic were published over 30 years ago now!

Thanks to Case Western's Institute for the Science of Origins for sponsoring today's event!


Susan Perkins said...

Cool - are you staying for the phylogenetics workshop, too?

Glor said...

I am the phylogenetics workshop...

mfb said...


Thanks for leading the MrBayes / Mesquite workshop today! The entire event was a great success. I've already gotten a lot of very positive feedback from participants who plan to be digging deeper into the approaches you introduced.

PS - Your detailed discussion of raccoon dogs and their relatives was also very informative!