Evolution Evolving: Process, Mechanism and Theory

by Katrina J Falkenberg, April 12, 2019

Last week, 200 delegates took part in the Evolution Evolving conference at Churchill College, Cambridge, UK. The conference was one of its kind – bringing together senior and junior academics from many different fields to encourage discussions across empirical and theoretical biology, philosophy and history of science, computer science, and anthropology. The atmosphere buzzed with enthusiasm and excitement. The title of the meeting – Evolution Evolving – captures that the evolutionary process itself evolves over time, an idea encapsulated in the concept of ‘evolvability’, which was one focus of the meeting. But it also highlights that evolutionary biology itself evolves, as it implements insights and tools from many other sciences, as well as the philosophy of science.

‘The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Philosophical and Historical Dimensions’ Workshop Report

by Alejandro Fábregas-Tejeda, March 31, 2019

A group of biologists, philosophers and historians of science recently gathered at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) for the 7th Workshop on History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences organized by Jan Baedke and Christina Brandt, entitled “The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis: Philosophical and Historical Dimensions” (21-22 March, 2019). This multidisciplinary community of scholars was brought together to reflect on past and present conceptual, explanatory, methodological, and sociological challenges that developmentally-oriented views in evolutionary biology face. The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) was used as a stepping stone for many of these discussions; however, also other important philosophical and historical topics were addressed that ‘extend’ beyond this conceptual framework.

Niche construction, feedback cascades, and how food is produced in Polynesia

by Seth Quintus & Ethan E Cochrane, March 6, 2019

Few cultural practices are more fundamentally tied to the environment than agriculture. Because of this, archaeological explanations for the development of food production systems throughout the world have privileged the concept of adaptation. Adaptation in this context has referred to the functional role played by agricultural techniques in an environmental context, for instance the development of drainage ditching in marshlands, though the definition of adaptation is rarely made explicit. Given this particular usage of the term adaptation, the archaeological investigation of “adaptation” has largely centred around the role of the external environment, both physically and culturally defined. Frequently, explanatory narratives evoke a variety of catalysts that range from climate change to socio-political demands within particular environmental settings. While these factors have no doubt affected the evolutionary rate and trajectory of food production throughout the world, understanding the actual manifestation of agricultural systems at any given time requires evaluating the evolution of selective pressures resulting from feedback loops linking human cultural practice and ecological change.