News & Events

Thomas Oudman
Thomas Oudman from the University of St. Andrews and NIOZ was visiting our group on the 11th and 12th of June. He gave a talk about his work on the role of culture in migratory barnacle geese:

Taking animal decisions seriously: the roles of culture and experience in the ecology and evolution of migratory behaviour by barnacle geese

Abstract: Arctic breeding birds are facing strong ecological changes along their migration routes, which requires them to adjust their strategies. What are the inheritance mechanisms of migratory behaviour, and how do they help or constrain species in changing it? Barnacle geese breeding on Spitsbergen face changes in food phenology along their staging sites. More than forty years of observations in the UK, along the Norwegian coast and on Spitsbergen show a clear response in migratory behaviour. We designed individual-based models to simulate different potential ways in which geese might develop and adjust their migratory behaviour. Using Approximate Bayesian Computation methods, we compared the resulting simulations with the actual patterns that emerge from bird counts and mark-recapture analysis of ring readings. The results suggest that group-decisions are crucial to explain the observed behavioural changes, and that older individuals lead groups, informing their decision by individual experiences. Young geese change strategy more often than older geese. This does not seem to result from a higher tendency to explore, but from a stronger tendency to switch between groups. In other words, it looks like barnacle geese have an advanced cultural system that allows them to respond to trends in environmental conditions spanning several generations.

We also had interesting discussions about other aspects of animal culture, learning, migratory behaviour and ecology and evolutionary biology.

NLSEB logo
On the 16th of April the second conference of the Nederlands Society for Evolutionary Biology took place in Akoesticum in Ede (Netherlands). Many MARMots attended the meeting and some presented their work during the poster session:

Xiaoyan Long “Coevolution of sex-specific parental roles and the sex ratio”

Timo van Eldijk “Does evolutionary rescue theory predict evolution of antibiotic resistance?”

Apu Ramesh “Eco-evo-devo of migration syndromes”

We are happy to announce that Timo and Apu received poster prizes, 3rd and 2nd place, respectively.


The Lorentz workshop ends with the public event Does Culture Evolve?, a line-up of internationally acclaimed researchers will critically discuss the supposed cultural habits of fruitflies, Darwinian approaches to the study of religion, the spread and evolution of fake news, and general arguments for and against the Darwinization of culture. This event is in the Boerhaave museum in Leiden, at 5 April 19.00 hour. The event is free, but registration is required. Check the website for more info.

As part of his Lorentz Fellowship, Franjo organizes the Lorentz workshop Probing the Foundations of Cultural Evolution, in the Lorentz Center@Oort venue in Leiden, from 1 to 5 April. The workshop lectures are open to anyone interested. Check the website for the program and more info.

Carlos Botero
From 1-10 April 2019, we will be visited by Carlos Botero, who is an assistent professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Carlos is visiting on the occasion of the Lorenz Workshop in Leiden. On 8 April he will present a guest lecture (Linnaeusborg, Blue Room (5172.0571), 15.00):

Eco-evolutionary implications of climate change

Abstract: Environmental conditions play a major role in determining the survival and reproduction of individuals and the long-term persistence of populations. In this talk, I will go over the different approaches my team has taken to explore how animals cope with and adapt to variable and unpredictable conditions and to understand how these eco-evolutionary feedback loops are ultimately responsible for shaping biological communities.

Sonia Sultan
On 11 February Sonia Sultan (Wesleyan University, USA) will present an extra GELIFES seminar:

Eco-devo insights to adaptive diversity

Workshop Dual inheritance
From 10 to 13 February, there will be an (informal) workshop on “Dual inheritance”, with core participants:

  • Irene Adrian-Kachhauser, Basel (CH)
  • Claudia Keller Valsecchi, Freiburg (GE)
  • Lisa Shama, Wilhelmshaven (GE)
  • Helen Spence-Jones, St. Andrews (UK)
  • Sonia Sultan, Wesleyan (USA)
  • Franjo Weissing, Groningen (NL)
Eva Boon
On Wednesday, 27 February 2019, at 13h30, Eva Boon (now Eindhoven University of Technology) will give a talk in the Blue Room (Linnaeusborg 571). Eva was among the first cohort of students of our topmaster programme Evolutionary Biology. Having started in Marine Biology, she became more and more interested in the microbiome, horizontal gene transfer, and the evolution of individuality. After having obtained a PhD in Biology from the University of Montreal in 2012 (on the evolution of inter-genomic variation in arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi), Eva became more and more interested in the philosophy of science. At present, she is finalizing a second doctoral dissertation in philosophy (on the foundations of the theory of cultural evolution).

When philosophy and biology meet – On the evolutionary individuality of biofilms

Abstract: In this talk, I explore how combining work from philosophy of science and biology can help understand complex evolutionary questions. As a case study, I explore recent discussions on the status of biofilms as evolutionary individuals. From a biological perspective, data on biofilms is abundant. However, high functional integration within the microbial communities that form biofilms makes it hard to decide whether such a community should be considered as an evolutionary individual, or as a ‘mere’ collection of individual cells. From a philosophical point of view, either interpretation is a theoretical possibility: the challenge lies in connecting these possibilities to actual biological studies on biofilms. By investigating the evolutionary concepts of heredity and selection, I argue that the interpretation of these concepts is key in how biologists draw conclusions from their data. The reverse is also the case: philosophers of science rely heavily on their interpretation of the biological literature when they elaborate their conceptual analyses and argue in favour of or against a particular interpretation of above evolutionary concepts. I conclude with some practical recommendations on how a combined philosophical and biological approach can complement either research effort, and lead to more fruitful discussions in both areas of investigation to boot.

Alfredo Rago
From 19-21 Feb 2019, we will be visited by Alfredo Rago. Alfredo has currently a postdoc position in Tobias Uller’s group (Lund Sweden; Tobias is one of the driving forces behind the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis) and in Richard Watson’s group (Southampton, UK; an AI expert working on network evolution). Alfredo’s research interests are almost identical to those of our group (consult his blog on this). He will give a talk during our monthly TRES seminar:

Can plasticity create irreversible constraints?

Andreas Limper
On 31 Jan 2019, we will be visited by Andreas Limper (an engineer and old friend of mine) and two experts on machine engineering from the University of Aachen (Germany). We will discuss options for using evolutionary algorithms to solve complex engineering problems that are based on designing optimal response strategies (i.e. machines that adapt to cues related to input variables, such as the composition of the material to be processed).
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