Welcome, readers, to the 57th Carnival of Evolution. This past month, the 204th birthday of Charles Darwin just happened to fall on Mardi Gras, a celebration of life’s exuberant excesses. So put on your most dazzling mask, and join us for an exploration of the endless forms most beautiful to be found in the living, evolving world.
In addition to Darwin Day and Mardi Gras, February is the month of Valentine’s Day. So it’s maybe appropriate that evolutionary bloggers had sex on the brain. Joachim describes new research on the specific forms of natural selection that might have supported the evolution of sexual reproduction. Right here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!, Amy Dapper writes about one consequence of sex, among grass gobies: “sneaker” males with specialized sperm. And Jeremy Yoder (yours truly) takes a look at daisies that attract pollinators by fooling them into mating with deceptive flower petals.
Meanwhile, Hannah Waters explains why sociable weaver birds nest together—because it pays to stay home and help their parents.
While most songbird species breed before they even turn a year old, sociable weavers rarely breed before the age of two. Instead, these younger birds help raise other nestlings–their siblings as well as unrelated chicks–by gathering food and maintaining the nest’s fluffy interior chambers and external sticks and grass.
At the BEACON blog, Danielle Whittaker reports on the work of Ph.D. student Alycia Lackey, who is watching new species in the process of forming. And gunnardw wonders whether new species are often born in conflicts between genes. And C. Titus Brown reports on his own work using the lamprey genome to uncover the role of genome duplication in the early evoluiton of vertebrates.
Meanwhile, Anne Buchanan recounts a case of ongoing, human-induced evolution: the spread of weeds resistant to glyphosate-based weedkiller.
And Iddo Friedberg describes new research suggesting that complex life may owe a lot to ancient, giant viruses.
One of the key insights of evolutionary biology is that the shared history of very different species can allow us to learn about one by examining another; gunnardw explains how biologists have gained understanding of human evolution using mice as a model.
Finally: evolutionary processes aren’t confined to biology. BEACON researcher David Knoester uses evolutionary computer algorithms to find cancer; and Bradly Alicea reports on a new evolutionary computer chip.
History of evolution
David Morrison shows how texts can be viewed through the framework of evolutionary change—using the book of Genesis as an example.
Romeo Vitelli explains how the tragic experience of the first captain of the HMS Beagle prompted his successor to take on young Charles Darwin, and David Winter describes Darwin’s visit to New Zealand with the Beagle—apparently he wasn’t impressed, in part because the islands were already overrun with invasive species!
I saw very few birds. It is said that the common Norway rat, in the short space of two years, annihilated in this northern end of the island, the New Zealand species. In many places I noticed several sorts of weeds, which, like the rats, I was forced to own as countrymen. (pp 427-8)
Metaphors are important in structuring scientific thinking—helping us “make sense” of otherwise abstract concepts—but the same structure can also become strictures. Bradly Alicea examines the use of one particular metaphor across evolutionary biology: ratchets.
Britt Koskella explains why she switched from studying psychology to evolutionary biology: because evolution is happening.
At about the same time that I was getting very frustrated by my psychology courses, I was taking an Evolution lab course (taught by the ingenious Janis Antonovics) where the theories I had been reading about first began to take shape. It was my first taste of why evolution mattered to me and also of how I could test it experimentally – yes, with controls!
Thanks to everyone who sent in their posts for this month’s Carnvial of Evolution! Please share this carnival, and like CoE on Facebook, follow CoE on Twitter, or check out the CoE blog. Want to submit a post for next month’s Carnival at Synthetic Daisies? You can do that using the form here, or by e-mailing Bjørn Østman.