Evolution 2009: Day three

Evolution 2009
On the third day of Evolution 2009, things are winding down already. I’ve been up late saying goodbye to folks leaving tomorrow.

A bog turtle
Photo by Wall Tea.

The most entertaining talk of the day was more about physics than evolution as such: specifically, an analysis of turtle shell architecture. C.T. Stayton discussed work he published in the May issue of Evolution, showing that turtle shell shapes are a compromise between streamlining for efficient swimming and ability to resist crushing attacks from predators [$-a]. He referenced Terry Pratchett in his introductory slides, but I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask afterward what the optimal shell shape is to support the weight of four elephants and a Discworld.

Other highlights:

  • Simone Des Roches presented more results from experiments that showed how the adaptive divergence of sticklebacks can alter ecosystem dynamics. (I discussed the original publication back in April.)
  • The amoeba Dictostelium discoideum responds to stress by forming spore-making fruiting bodies. Some cells “cheat” by taking the beneficial spots in the fruiting body and leaving others to form its non-reproductive stalk — and it seems that the cheaters do this by getting there first.
  • Live-bearing guppies are able to compensate for a reduced food supply by restricting the size of their developing babies.
  • Although whaling nations argue that Minke whales have become much more abundant due to lack of competition from species hunted to near extinction in the early 20th century, population genetic data suggest that Minke whales are about as numerous as they were prior to that time.
  • It’s actually proving pretty tricky to determine the evolutionary relationships of chipmunks in Western North America, both because they hybridize frequently and because they speciated rapidly.
  • Boundaries between related species’s geographic distributions may be maintained by locally-adapted pathogens.

And, finally, video of Eugenie Scott’s Gould Award lecture is now online for streaming in Real Video format here.


Harmon, L., Matthews, B., Des Roches, S., Chase, J., Shurin, J., & Schluter, D. (2009). Evolutionary diversification in stickleback affects ecosystem functioning Nature, 458 (7242), 1167-70 DOI: 10.1038/nature07974

Stayton, C. (2009). Application of thin-plate spline transformations to finite element models, or, how to turn a bog turtle into a spotted turtle to analyze both. Evolution, 63 (5), 1348-55 DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00655.x