Upcoming Seminars

Our seminars are generally at UCL, and always free to attend. Registration is usually not required. The LERN seminar series is funded by the UCL Doctoral School Academic Societies Fund.

Andrea DixonAt the edge of the species: the effects of gene flow on fitness

Speaker: Dr. Andrea Dixon (Rothamsted)

Title: At the edge of the species: the effects of gene flow on fitness

Where: Medawar Building G02 Watson LT, UCL (Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT)

When: 25th April 2017, 18:30


Species ranges that are distributed across environmentally heterogeneous landscapes can be constrained by the efficacy of natural selection at range edges. Constraints on adaptation in range edge populations may arise because of small effective population size or because of an antagonism between divergent selection and gene flow. Mimulus bicolor, is an herbaceous spring annual constrained to the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in California, USA. To understand if maladaptive gene flow or small effective population size limits the species’ range, we investigated if populations found at climatically divergent range edges and at the center of the range were locally adapted using a common garden experiment in climate-controlled chambers. We then assessed the consequences of gene flow into edge populations by comparing the fitness of hybrids to parents originating from the local edge environment. These common garden analyses were supported by coalescent analysis to estimate effective population size and gene flow between central and edge populations originating from the field. From the common garden experiment, our results suggest that the populations used in this study were not locally adapted and gene flow from central to edge populations increased hybrid fitness. In addition, edge populations were effectively smaller than central populations. Taken together, these results reject the hypothesis that the range limits reflect an antagonism between divergent selection and gene flow. The geographic distribution of M. bicolor, however, likely reflects the reduced efficacy of natural selection in effectively small populations inhabiting stressful range edge environments.

Nigel Nicholson – Adaptive and unadaptive leadership: an evolutionary perspective

Speaker: Prof. Nigel Nicholson (London Business School)

Title: Adaptive and unadaptive leadership: an evolutionary perspective

Where: UCL, Drayton House B05 (30 Gordon Street, WC1H 0AX)

When: 20th February 2017, 18:00


Leadership serves the need for coordination and direction in social groups of many species, and for humans it has special properties and significance. We notice when it fails more than when it succeeds, and it has been heavily and largely poorly theorised in the business literature. We shall discuss why this is and how an evolutionary perspective can help us understand the preconditions, from a practical and theoretical standpoint, for its success and failure as an adaptive instrument for groups and institutions.

Camilla Power – The Revolutionary Sex

Speaker: Dr. Camilla Power (University of East London)

Title: The Revolutionary Sex: can sexual conflict theory help explain the emergence of language and culture?

Where: UCL (room to be confirmed)

When: 12th October, 18:00


Across species, sexual selection and sexual conflict – where the evolutionary interests of the sexes differ – provide the arena for the evolution of highly elaborate forms of signaling. Sexual conflict models, with complex psychological adaptations to situations of both conflict and cooperation between the sexes, can illuminate the evolution of the human symbolic domain of language, art and ritual.

Inside the last half- million years, significant encephalization in our African ancestors imposed heavy reproductive costs on females. Female coalitionary ritualized display emerged as a strategy to increase levels of male investment in very large-brained offspring.  Basically, we’re here today with our huge brains because women (and investor males) won the symbolic revolution at the expense of non-investing alpha males. The advantage of this model is that it offers specific predictions about the symbolic signals that arose and can still be traced in the archaeological and ethnographic records.

Past Seminars (2015/2016)

Speaker: Professor Chris Jiggins (University of Cambridge)

Title: A constructive role for introgression in generating novelty in butterfly wing patterns

Where: Medawar G02 Watson LT, UCL

When: 21st June 2016, 6PM


We are increasingly able to study evolutionary processes such as adaptation and speciation on a genomic scale. I will outline our work to assemble chromosomal-level assemblies of butterfly genomes using high resolution linkage maps. These have been used to study patterns of divergence between closely related species. One of the most pervasive patterns is the extent to which distinct species show a signature of admixture due to hybridisation, which can influence up to 40% of the genome. This hybridisation can also occasionally contribute adaptive variants, and our work has demonstrated the importance of introgression in the origins of complex wing patterns. Genome sequence data from 100s of individuals across two major radiations has identified narrow regions associated with distinct colour pattern elements. We hypothesise that these modules in non-coding sequence represent distinct cis-regulatory loci that control expression of just 3-4 key genes, including the transcription factor optix and the morphogen WntA, which in turn control pattern variation across Heliconius. Phylogenetic analysis of these elements demonstrated that they have distinct evolutionary histories and that novel adaptive morphological variation was created by shuffling these cis-regulatory modules through recombination between divergent lineages. In addition, recombination of modules into different combinations within species further contributes to diversity. Analysis of the timing of diversification supports the hypothesis of introgression moving regulatory modules between species, rather than shared ancestral variation, as divergence can be much younger at wing pattern loci relative to species divergence. I therefore argue that shuffling of existing enhancer elements both within and between species provides a mechanism for rapid diversification and generation of novel morphological combinations during adaptive radiation

Speaker: Professor Quentin Cronk (University of British Columbia, Queen Mary University of London)

Title: Plant extinction and planetary function: business as usual or are we in crisis?

Where: G02 Watson LT, Medawar Building, UCL

When: 5th May 2016, 6PM

Abstract: In 1992 the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) predicted a plant extinction crisis with 7% of plants species being lost per decade, a calculation mainly based on rates of tropical rainforest deforestation. Taking this at face value 60,000 plants should be extinct by now. Yet the latest Red Data List gives 139 plants that have become extinct in the anthropocene. What is going on? Island ecosytems are extreme cases where plant extinctions have been well documented. Taking the devastated island of St Helena as an example, I will show examples of the actual processes involved in plant extinction, and attempt to reconcile catastrophism to reality.

Speaker: Dr Arkhat Abzhanov (Imperial College London)

Title: Evolution of the Animal Face: from Principles to Mechanisms

Where: Anatomy G04 Gavin de Beer LT, UCL

When: 23rd March 2016, 6PM

Abstract: Understanding the origins of natural diversity remains as one of the chief challenges to modern biology. My research group aims to reveal molecular mechanisms underlying evolutionary processes that generate morphological variation in nature. More specifically, we wish to show how particular changes in embryonic development can produce morphological alterations for natural selection to act upon. The principal focus for our studies is on the animal face and head. Cranial diversity in vertebrates is a particularly inviting and challenging research topic as animal heads and faces show many dramatic, unique and adaptive features which reflect their natural history. Most of the facial diversity depends on the shapes and sizes of the bones and cartilages that make up the cranial skeleton. I will describe how our investigations of craniofacial skeletal development are helping us to uncover mechanisms that generated cranial diversity during evolution. In particular, we employ a synergistic combination of morphometrics techniques, comparative molecular embryology and functional experimentation to explain cranial evolution in reptiles, birds and mammals, some of the most charismatic creatures on our planet.

Speaker: Dr Natalie Cooper (Natural History Museum)

Title: Macroevolution in Fossils and Living Species: Were Dinosaurs Bad News for Mammals?

Where: South Wing 9 Garwood LT, UCL

When: 20th October 2015, 6PM

Abstract: Macroevolutionary studies often focus either on living or fossil species. However, ignoring one or the other leaves out a huge amount of diversity and therefore may influence our results. In this talk I will present research looking at the effect of the Cretaceous-Palaeogene extinction (where the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct) on mammalian morphological diversity. Using data from either fossil or living species or both gives quite different conclusions on the effect of dinosaur extinction on mammal diversity. I will end by giving some advice for Early Career Researchers about surviving the PhD process and academia more generally!