PNAS Special Edition: Extension of Biology Through Culture

26 July 2017


Yesterday, PNAS published a collection of papers on The Extension of Biology through Culture, resulting from a Sackler Colloquium held at the Beckman Center in November. The papers can be viewed free and a news feature provides an overview of the topic.


Many of the talks can be viewed on our films page and the colloquium’s YouTube channel.


Introductory comments from Andy Whiten, co-organizer of the conference:
Biology is the science of life. How our understanding of the nature and evolution of living systems is being enriched and extended through new discoveries about social learning and culture in human and non-human animals is the subject of the collection of articles we introduce here. Recent decades of research have revealed that social learning and the transmission of cultural traditions are widespread amongst animals, shaping adaptive behavior from foraging to predator avoidance and mating behavior, yet this body of work remains to be well integrated into evolutionary biology at large. Progress in such studies is surveyed here in papers on primates, cetaceans, birds and insects. A second series of papers focuses on our own, distinctively hyper-cultural species, reporting progress in understanding its evolutionary and ontogenetic development. Together the studies described in this collection of papers examine how our deeper understanding of culture in both humans and non-human animals extend the scope of evolutionary biology. They delineate ways in which cultural transmission expands our understanding of evolution, echoing features familiar in organic evolution, but also going beyond them in distinctive ways, with different consequences. Organic and cultural evolution interact in forms of gene-culture coevolution that further extend the scope of evolutionary biology.

University of Cambridge logo

Vacancy: Postdoc position in evolution and inclusive inheritance

14 July 2017


Applications are invited for a 2-year post-doctoral position to work with Professor Rufus Johnstone in the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, on mathematical and computational modeling of the evolution of inclusive inheritance.

The successful applicant will work on modeling three mechanisms of inclusive inheritance: (i) social transmission (exploring how social learning and teaching changes across the life-cycle), (ii) epigenetic inheritance (investigating how maternal investment and resource transmission impacts on subsequent health and development), and (iii) ecological inheritance (considering how environmental modulation and niche construction generate group differences in behaviour). There is, however, scope for the focus of the modelling to reflect the interests of the candidate.


Closing date for applications: 7 August 2017
Position description and online applications: University recruitment portal
Information enquires: email Rufus Johnstone

University of Exeter logo

Vacancy: Postdoc positions in the cultural evolution and ecology of institutions

9 June 2017


Applications are invited for two 3-year post-doctoral positions to work with Dr Thomas Currie at the Human Biological and Cultural Evolution group, Centre for Ecology & Conservation, Department of Biosciences at the Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter on his ERC-funded project, The Cultural Evolution and Ecology of Institutions.


One position will focus on mathematical models and computer simulation of the evolution of institutions and cooperation in humans, and is suitable for candidates with a background in modelling social evolution, cultural evolution, evolutionary ecology or other related areas. The other position will focus on the creation of datasets and statistical analysis in order to test these models, and may be suitable for those with experience of assembling comparative datasets or other kinds of datasets for testing human social or cultural evolution, and the ability to conduct a variety of statistical analyses. 


Position descriptions and online applications:
1. Modelling
2. Data/Analysis


Closing date for applications: 19 June 2017
Ideal start date: 1 September 2017
Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Tom Currie ahead of applications to discuss the positions.

KLI workshop participants

Cause and Process in Evolution workshop

1 June 2017


On 11-14 May 2017, approximately 35 evolutionary biologists and philosophers of biology met to discuss the nature of causation in evolution in the first of three EES-hosted workshops. The aim of the workshop was to initiate close interaction and exchange between philosophers of science and biologists, both within the research program and outside it, to reflect on the nature of causation in biological evolution. The EES has a different perspective on causation in evolution, and ascribes a greater range of processes evolutionary significance, than traditional perspectives. The workshop set out to scrutinize these claims, with both philosophers (acting as independent arbiters) and non-project members (including non-sympathizers) present to ensure good debate.


Three blog posts from Wim Hordijk, Jan Baedke and Massimo Pigliucci summarize the content of the workshop.


Workshop attendees were live tweeting throughout the talks under the hashtag #CAPIE2017.


The KLI in Klosterneuburg, Austria hosted the event and posted a great photo gallery.

Indiana University logo

Vacancy: Postdoc position in evolutionary genetic theory

26 May 2017


The Wade lab seeks a collegial, self-motivated, independent, and intellectually curious individual with a recent PhD in Evolutionary Biology or related field(s). The research emphasis is the intersection of population genetics and the evolution of development in complex systems, with an emphasis on models of dual inheritance for investigating general features of indirect genetic effects and niche construction with applications to cyto-nuclear and host-symbiont co-evolution. The candidate will have the opportunity to enrich the interactions between the laboratory groups of Professor Michael Wade and Professor Armin Moczek. The position is fully funded by a multi-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation and available for 24 months.


Applications closing soon. Anticipated start date of July 1, 2017 is desired but negotiable.


For further information and applications please contact Jeremy Bennett and refer to the University recruitment portal.

Darwin's Unfinished Symphony

Released today: Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony

22 March 2017


The latest book from Kevin Laland, Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony was released today. The book tells the story of three decades of research that led to a new understanding of how culture transformed human evolution.


Humans possess an extraordinary capacity for cultural production, from the arts and language to science and technology. Laland’s research addresses the question of how the human mind – and the uniquely human ability to devise and transmit culture – evolved from its roots in animal behavior. Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony presents a captivating new theory of human cognitive evolution. It is a compelling and accessible book that reveals how culture is not just the magnificent end product of an evolutionary process that produced a species unlike all others – it is also the key driving force behind that process.


For more information, visit the book’s website. To purchase a hardback or eBook copy, visit Princeton University Press or Amazon.

Royal Society London

Schism and Synthesis at the Royal Society

8 March 2017


In November of last year, the Royal Society and the British Academy hosted a discussion meeting, New Trends in Evolutionary Biology: Biological, Philosophical and Social Science Perspectives. The meeting stimulated a wealth of discussion between philosophers and researchers in the biological and social sciences, as well as with science journalists (for a summary of articles, see our previous news item “The EES in popular media: 2016” from 10 January 2017).


Kevin Laland, one of the meeting organizers, has produced a summary of the meeting for Trends in Ecology and Evolution entitled, Schism and Synthesis at the Royal Society. In his article, Laland summarizes some of the differences in interpretation of findings that were evident at the meeting.


For audio recordings of the conference presentations, please visit our Audio Recordings page.

Uppsala University logo

Vacancy: PhD position in animal ecology and evolution of epigenetic inheritance

1 March 2017


Applications are open for a PhD position in animal ecology studying the evolution of epigenetic inheritance. The successful candidate will join the laboratory of Dr Martin Lind, investigating life-history evolution, ageing and sexual selection, in the Department of Ecology and Genetics at Uppsala University.


The successful applicant will investigate the evolution of adaptive epigenetic and trans-generational inheritance of fitness and ageing during adaptation to new environments (high or fluctuating temperature) in the powerful laboratory model system – the nematode Caenorhabditis remanei. They will use a combination of experimental evolution, trans-generational phenotypic assays of life history traits (fitness, ageing, growth, development) and gene expression approaches, as well as analyses of already existing selection lines.


Application deadline: 15 March 2017


For further information and applications please contact Dr Martin Lind and refer to the University recruitment portal.

Lund University logo

Vacancy: postdoctoral position examining the role of developmental bias for evolution

17 February 2017


Applications are open for a postdoctoral research position examining the role of developmental bias for evolution. The project is led by Prof Tobias Uller and the researcher will work in the evolutionary ecology group at the Department of Biology, Lund University.


This project will use meta-analytical approaches to address how wide spread developmental bias is, its phylogenetic distribution, and if the patterns of developmental bias are concordant with adaptive diversification. The research is primarily based on collection of data from the primary literature, but may also involve other sources, such as museum collections, and mathematical and statistical modelling. The position will provide the opportunity to explore evolutionary developmental biology and develop skills in meta-analysis, phylogenetic comparative methods, and evolutionary theory.


For further information and applications contact Prof Tobias Uller and refer to the University recruitment portal.

New Scientist magazine front cover

The EES in popular media: 2016

10 January 2017


The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) research project was featured in a number of popular science articles throughout 2016. These articles are just part of the lively and constructive discussion surrounding the EES, which is an important part of advancing science. We are delighted with this attention, as is important that the scientific process and resulting findings are made available to non-specialist audiences and the general public in easily understandable terms.


Among the most widely distributed coverage were four articles on the need for an EES in popular online science magazines:


Scientists seek to update evolution

Carl Zimmer

Quanta Magazine, 22 November

(also featured in The Atlantic, 28 November)


The world’s top biologists have met to discuss whether we should update evolution

Fiona MacDonald

Science Alert, 28 November


Is it time for our understanding of evolution to evolve?

Patrick J Kiger

How Stuff Works, 13 December


Is there a role for intelligence in evolution?

Kevin Laland

Big Questions Online, 27 December


In addition, project leader Kevin Laland and local coordinator Richard Watson both authored articles in New Scientist:


Evolution evolves: Beyond the selfish gene

Kevin Laland, 21 September


Nature’s brain: A radical new view of evolution

Richard Watson, 22 March

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