ERA 2019 Seminar Series: Thomas Suddendorf

Our second Seminar Series talk for 2019 by Prof. Thomas Suddendorf will consider the evolution of mental time travel. The talk will take place on Thursday 7th 2019. The talk will be held at The University of Auckland’s Clock Tower Lecture Theatre 105 – 029, from 4:00pm – 5:00pm.

Prof. Thomas Suddendorf: “Emerging foresight”
University of Queensland

Abstract: The human ability to travel mentally in time and to consider diverse future possibilities has increasingly become a topic of considerable research attention. Here I will review recent studies from our laboratory, examining the nature and development of foresight, from the essential capacity to conceive of alternatives, to strategic applications, such as deliberate practice aimed at shaping future skills. I maintain that complex prospection has been a prime mover in human evolution and is a key to understanding human dominance on the planet.

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ERA 2019 Seminar Series: Matthew Hahn

Professor Matthew Hahn from Indiana University Bloomington is to kick off the Auckland Evolution 2019 Seminar Series next week with his talk, The Procrustean bed of the species tree, on Thursday 7th February, 2019. The talk will be held at The University of Auckland Clock Tower (105-018), from 4:30pm – 5:30pm.

Prof. Matthew Hahn: “The Procrustean bed of the species tree”
Indiana University Bloomington

Abstract: Convergent evolution provides key evidence for the action of natural selection. The process of convergence is often inferred because the same trait appears in multiple species that are not closely related. However, different parts of the genome can reveal different relationships among species, with some genes or regions uniting lineages that appear unrelated in the species tree. If changes in traits occur in these discordant regions, a false pattern of convergence can be produced when all traits are analysed using the species relationships. In this talk I explain how forcing all traits to be analysed on a species tree will often result in incorrect inferences about the direction of evolution and the number of times a trait has evolved. I will also cover multiple approaches for moving beyond species trees that promise to provide a more accurate view of organismal and trait evolution.

ERA 2018 Seminar Series: Dan Tawfik

Our final Seminar Series talk will feature an international speaker, co-hosted with Massey University. Professor Dan S. Tawfik from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel will give a talk on protein evolution.

Professor Tawfik’s talk will take place on December 6th 2018. The talk will be held at Massey University’s Atrium Building, in room AT2, located on University Ave, Albany, Auckland 0632, from 4:30pm – 5:30pm.

Prof. Dan S. Tawfik: “How do proteins evolve?”
Department of Biomolecular Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Abstract: I will describe findings and models regarding how new proteins functions evolve, via gradual, small changes in sequence and structure. However, the mechanisms of such evolutionary micro-transitions do not explain the macro evolutionary transitions – how (and whether) did proteins emerge de novo? The size, structural complexity, and functional near-perfection of proteins, makes this question particularly daunting. In the second part of my talk I will discuss our findings with respect to the de novo emergence of functional, globular proteins from short peptides, and specifically, new insight regarding the emergence of the earliest proteins.

ERA 2018 Seminar Series: Kristal Cain

Our fourth Seminar Series talk by Dr. Kristal Clements will take an evolutionary perspective on the study of animal behaviour. The talk will take place on November 1st 2018. The talk will be held at Commerce A 114-G14 off Symonds Street, from 4:30pm – 5:30pm.

Dr. Kristal Cain: “Fiery Females; Form, function and fitness”
School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

Abstract:How do we explain costly and ridiculous traits like bright colours, elaborate ornaments, exaggerated weapons and lethal aggression? The current best model is sexual selection; males are limited by the number of females they can mate and they use these traits to improve their chances. Females on the other hand, focus on producing and caring for offspring, and are selective about their mates. This is a powerful model, and is used throughout evolutionary biology to explain the evolution and persistence of sex differences. However, there are a lot of assumptions built into this model, assumptions that are rarely examined or tested. I will present a series of case studies in which I use birds to examine some common and foundational assumptions regarding the evolution of complex social traits including aggression, elaborate song, and bright plumage. In some cases, these assumptions are solid, but in most, they are poorly supported and in need of revision.

ERA 2018 Seminar Series: Kendall Clements

Our third Seminar Series talk by Dr. Kendall Clements will be on marine biology, on October 4th 2018. The talk will be held at The University of Auckland Clock Tower (105-018), from 4:30pm – 5:30pm.

Dr. Kendall Clements: “How evolution contributes to understanding marine herbivory”
School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

Abstract: Marine herbivorous fishes represent some of the most diverse assemblages of vertebrate herbivores known, especially on coral reefs. Work on herbivorous fishes on coral reefs and temperate rocky reefs has focused heavily on the removal of algae by these fishes, in contrast to the more mechanistic approaches taken in studies of herbivorous reptiles and mammals. This has led to a number of misconceptions in the literature, especially in relation to whether low temperatures constrain the digestion of algae. Associated with this perceived constraint is the idea that most herbivorous fish taxa evolved in the tropics and subsequently radiated into high latitudes. Another misconception is the nature of resource partitioning in these fishes, and the idea that most depend on macroscopic algae as food. An evolutionary approach that includes an examination of biogeographic history and the actual mechanisms of resource acquisition and processing by different clades tells a different story, and highlights the differences between herbivory on land and in the sea. This talk will examine the patterns of diversification in these fishes in space and time, and show that evolutionary contingency and disturbance have played a major role in the generation of current biodiversity.

ERA 2018 Seminar Series: Alex Taylor

Our next speaker is Dr. Alex Taylor, who will give a talk on the evolution of intelligence, on September 6th 2018. The talk will be held at The University of Auckland Clock Tower (105-018), from 4:30pm – 5:30pm.

Dr. Alex Taylor: “What can birds teach us about the evolution of intelligence?”
School of Psychology, University of Auckland

Abstract: Over the past decade our understanding of avian intelligence has grown considerably. This progress means we can now use various birds species as models for understanding the evolution of different aspects of intelligence. I will discuss two recent findings in our lab that demonstrate the potential of this type of research.

ERA 2018 Seminar Series: Emily Parke

Our first speaker, Dr. Emily Parke, will give our first talk on the philosophy of science, from an evolutionary perspective, on August 2nd 2018. The talk will be held at The University of Auckland Clock Tower (105-018), from 4:30pm – 5:30pm.

Dr. Emily Parke: “Tapes of Life on Ice: Some philosophical lessons from experimental microbial evolution”
Department of Philosophy, University of Auckland

Abstract: Experimental microbial evolution—propagating microbes in the laboratory as a means to study evolution in real time—is an exciting and growing research area in biology. It is also a revealing lens through which to critically examine traditional views about experimental inquiry. This talk focuses on two such views. The first regards the difference between experiments and simulations. A number of philosophers and scientists have argued that there is some in-principle difference between these two methodologies, in terms of value or inferential power. Drawing on examples from experimental evolution, I show that these are bad arguments. Second, I focus on views about hypothesis-testing versus exploratory experiments. Philosophers of science have treated these as two distinct kinds of experimental inquiry. Again, experimental evolution cases put pressure on this view, highlighting a middle ground between hypothesis testing and exploration.