The unlikely but fruitful waltz of a curious couple: Phenotypic plasticity and learning theory thumbnail

The unlikely but fruitful waltz of a curious couple: Phenotypic plasticity and learning theory

by Miguel Brun-Usan


When the Modern Synthesis was put together in the early decades of the twentieth century, natural selection became the obvious focus of evolutionary thought. Although this focus has increased our understanding of biological evolution by orders of magnitude, it tells us little about how phenotypic variation is produced. Variation – the third evolutionary pillar envisioned

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Extended Heredity: An interview with Russell Bonduriansky and Troy Day thumbnail

Extended Heredity: An interview with Russell Bonduriansky and Troy Day

by Russell Bonduriansky, Troy Day, Kevin N Laland & Katrina J Falkenberg


Extended Heredity: A New Understanding of Inheritance and Evolution is a fantastic new book by Russell Bonduriansky and Troy Day about the role of nongenetic inheritance in evolution. There are many similarities between the views presented in the book and the extended evolutionary synthesis but there are also differences. Kevin Laland identified some of these

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Developmental bias and evolution thumbnail

Developmental bias and evolution

by Tobias Uller


David Houle and his colleagues must have been tired of flies. By the time they finished, they had been photographing and measuring over 50,000 fly wings. The results revealed that mutations commonly produced particular wing shapes, whereas others were rare. Equally painstaking work has quantified variability of the nematode vulva, butterfly eyespots, and mammalian teeth.

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Structural inheritance: The parent as a developmental template thumbnail

Structural inheritance: The parent as a developmental template

by Katrina J Falkenberg & Russell Bonduriansky


Structural inheritance is an often-neglected form of nongenetic inheritance. In their new book, Extended Heredity: A New Understanding of Inheritance and Evolution, authors Russell Bonduriansky and Troy Day describe numerous examples of structural inheritance, where structural features – and their mutilations – are inherited in subsequent generations through self-templating and related processes.   Parental traits

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Developmental bias: An interview with Wallace Arthur thumbnail

Developmental bias: An interview with Wallace Arthur

by Wallace Arthur & Katrina J Falkenberg


Wallace Arthur is an Emeritus Professor of Zoology at the National University of Ireland in Galway. He is a renowned evolutionary developmental biologist, working across disciplinary boundaries to understand the evolution of animal body plans and segmentation, a subject on which he has published numerous scientific papers and books, as well as popular science pieces.

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D’Arcy Thompson and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis thumbnail

D’Arcy Thompson and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis

by Kevin N Laland


Last week I had the privilege of attending the workshop The Conceptual Legacy of “On Growth and Form” held in St Andrews UK, a (late) celebration of the centenary of publication of D’Arcy Thompson’s classic book (1917/1942).1 The meeting, organized by philosophers of biology Alan Love and Sahotra Sarkar, comprised an interesting mix of developmental

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Is social transmission a forgotten force in coevolution? thumbnail

Is social transmission a forgotten force in coevolution?

by Rose Thorogood


During the last decade it has become impossible to ignore that social transmission of information occurs across the animal kingdom:1 humans and non-human animals alike learn by observing others. An explosion of studies demonstrate that species as diverse as Drosophila fruit flies to humpback whales either copy the behavior of others, or use it to

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United fronts: Unity, organization, and syntheses in the life sciences thumbnail

United fronts: Unity, organization, and syntheses in the life sciences

by Andrew Buskell


In his book Consilience, E.O. Wilson described science as he saw it: one moving ever closer to shared agreement on theories, principles, concepts, and standards of evidence. For Wilson, the indications that science was unifying were obvious; “disciplinary boundaries within the natural sciences are disappearing, to be replaced by shifting hybrid domains in which consilience

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The variational ratchet: Intuiting the variational approach to niche construction thumbnail

The variational ratchet: Intuiting the variational approach to niche construction

by Axel Constant & Karl J Friston


The principle of evolution by natural selection provides a solid conceptual tool to understand adaptive design. It operates like a ratchet, to retain and build upon functional variation. Pull down, ‘click’! Variation. Hold tight, lock it! Retention and differential fitness. Push up! Inheritance, and ratchet your way up towards peaks in the adaptive landscape. As

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Pleiotropy allows the evolutionary maintenance of positive niche construction in the face of free-riders thumbnail

Pleiotropy allows the evolutionary maintenance of positive niche construction in the face of free-riders

by Mark M Tanaka


In our paper published recently in American Naturalist, we used mathematical models to help us understand how positive niche construction can be maintained. Many animals, plants and other organisms engage in niche construction, that is, they modify the environment and the subsequent selective pressures to which they are exposed. Positive niche construction occurs when organisms

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